How I Got to My Career

June 08, 2014
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Being a single mom and following the steps to be a research scientist

My daughter and I move back to my mom’s house and I started working in her pediatrician’s office in insurance billing – NOT my dream job, but it paid the bills.  I then got into a master’s program at Southeastern Louisiana State University.  Not a big (well known) school but I could at least continue my education and look after my daughter.  The project I worked on was really very interesting.  I was looking at the growth of Bacillus subtilis on polyurethane and the purification and characterization of a polyurethanase-lipase enzyme.  It was a very common soil bacteria that could degrade polyurethane (a man-made substance).  I started in the fall and the next Spring I flew to Atlanta, GA to a job fair at Emory University just to see what was out there.  While at the job fair I was asked back for 5 second interviews.  So I went back to Louisiana and told my mentor that I needed to finish soon because there were too many opportunities for me in Atlanta not to go.  I went back to Atlanta for the second interviews and was offered 6 positions.  I took the job that I found most interesting – examining protein evolution.  I finished my master by June and moved to Atlanta with my daughter that summer.


Moving to Atlanta was a big change.  A new school for my 6 year old daughter, a new job for me, and all in a unfamiliar city where I knew a couple of people but there was no family (I am lucky to have a big supportive family).  But it was off to a new adventure.  My daughter and I settled in and I found my job once again very interesting.  What I have learned about myself over the years is that there is not one research question that I am interested in but I like the process of research – the idea of coming up with a question and then figuring out a way to be able to answer that question.  My boss in Atlanta encouraged me to apply to graduate school and get my PhD – he told me I was too smart to be a research technician.  So I applied to several programs around the country and in the end decided I wanted to stay at Emory. 

During my PhD work I again changed my research focus to DNA damage-induced reactive oxygen species: a genotoxic stress response.  I worked hard and was able to finish in 5 years.  My daughter was with me the whole time – always supportive of her mom but always wondering when mom was going to get a “real job”.  To this day I’m not sure that she thinks I have a “real job”.  The weekend of my thesis defense with my family in town we went to one of my daughter’s volleyball tournaments.  While there one of the other moms introduced me to a friend of hers that worked at the CDC.  She was very kind and asked if I would like to send her my CV so that she could pass it around to see if anyone was interested in hiring me.  She invited me to the campus for a tour and to me with a few people.  From this came a job offer in the DNA sequencing core facility.  I have been in this position for 4 ½ years and have enjoyed every minute of it. Ultimately I found a great job in a STEM field.


While my journey in my PhD and my job at the CDC my not be the typical route I would not change it for anything.  This journey allowed me to grow as a person (and mother) and to truly understand what I enjoyed doing in life. 



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