Where you can find her: https://www.facebook.com/PlantingScience.org/
- Hiram College; Biology Major, Art History Minor; Graduated in 2000
- Cornell University; Ph.D. in Plant Pathology; graduated in 2006
Current Job Title: Education Technology Manager
What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?
I honestly cannot remember any one particular event that interested me in science. As far back as I can remember, I was interested in science, in asking questions and trying to get better answers than “Just because.” In my hometown, anyone interested in science was supposed to go to medical school because apparently that was the only choice for people interested in biology. So, I started to plan for medical school, although I knew deep down that I didn’t want to work that closely with people. I justified it by deciding I’d study pathology, and I interned at our local hospital’s lab, where I mostly filed paperwork, cleared the fax machine, and sometimes got to look over the shoulder of the pathologist. It took a long time, but once I realized that medical school was just more rote memorization and that most of the people in the medical field were really unpleasant and ungrateful (or maybe that was just my hometown LOL), I struggled with figuring out what to do after college. I knew I wanted MORE education after college, but I didn’t know what.
I left the study of human diseases during undergrad to study plant diseases for my Ph.D. work.
Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.
My grandfather was a retired urologist, and he tried to talk me out of medical school for a long time. He retired early from his successful medical career (out of disgust with private insurance, I believe) and didn’t want to see me get stuck in medicine. My grandfather owned a small vineyard and winery in central Ohio, and I regularly worked alongside him among the vines, during which time he eventually talked me into studying plant pathology – the study of plant diseases. More specifically, he led me down the rabbit hole of studying a difficult and often devastating disease that primarily affects grape growers in cold climates – crown gall.
Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?
As the first person in my family to get a Ph.D., I didn’t know what to expect or what kinds of goals I should have as a career. I didn’t have many specific mentors, and instead often would reach out to older students or knowledgeable staff members for advice. But there was a time when I just felt completely in over my head during graduate school. I was totally overwhelmed with the work and struggling to understand some new concepts, and I was considering dropping out and opening a bakery. But I decided to stick with the program and finish my Ph.D., and I’m glad I did.
Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.
There’s a lot more to a career than the hard skills of *doing* science; there are important soft skills, like navigating how to get along with difficult people, which turns out to be far more important than I fully understood until I had my first position after my postdoc. I was in extension, and I finally realized that I while loved working with growers, I was not interested in the details of being in academia – writing grants, publishing papers, etc. The location was also not a good fit for me personally, and I left that position without a job lined up.
I spent a few months home with my toddler son and infant daughter, when a former colleague reached out about an open position at a nearby university. Finding motherhood intense and needing to be fully employed, I jumped at the chance for this (mostly) administrative academic position as a program director. I thoroughly enjoyed this position, even the little bit of teaching I had to do, because the students were just fantastic. Alas, I had to leave this position, as my husband left academia for a position across the country.
I was able to work remotely as a part-time instructional designer, but I kept my eyes open for a full time position with benefits. When I saw the posting for my current position, I jumped at the chance, knowing that I was technically over-qualified with a Ph.D., but I had volunteered for the organization for years, and I loved it so much, I knew working with the people who made the program possible would be exciting. I have learned so many new skills in my current position as an Education Technology Manager, and I am so grateful that my employer was willing to give me a chance.
Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.
I actually do very little science anymore, as my main role is an online community manager. But my knowledge in science helps me monitor activity and evaluate data critically to decide on next steps for management and funding.
I am a knitter, so I love trying to find some science-themed projects; I recently knit a DNA hat, which was a lot of fun and turned out to be really cool.
I love to laugh, so I’m always looking for funny – and punny – plant-themed memes to share on our social media page. One of the main parts of our program is to show that scientists are people who have hobbies and interests outside of their research, and I try to highlight this.
Is there some advice you could share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.
Think very carefully about your career goals before you decide on what degree to get. If you aren’t sure what you want to do, maybe it’s not practical to get a Ph.D. right now. Get a Master’s and some work experience because so much can happen in your life that a science career is rarely a straight line from undergrad to grad school to postdoc to faculty position, and I’d hate for anyone to get stuck in a loop of adjunct teaching, which is the direction most colleges and universities are taking.
Volunteer in something you love – bikes, art, outreach education, knitting, whatever. Finding another community can help you either blend your love of science and whatever else interests you or find a new position entirely.
Basically, be sure NOT to make your job your life, whatever that job ends up being, and don’t fret (too much) if you’re not where you thought you’d be. There are no “right” decisions for your life; there are only different paths, and it’s important to focus on the path you’re on and not opine about the path you thought you were going to take.