This is my last letter of the summer and I have to say it’s been pretty great talking to Wellesley alumnae about their life. For my last interview, I spoke to Kieran Pechter, a graduate of the class of 2004.
Kieran is currently an exome sequencing analyst at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. When entering Wellesley, Kieran wanted to become an oncologist. She majored in biology and was preparing to go into medical school when she did a summer research internship at Baylor College called SMART. Following that life-changing summer, she got a job in a campus lab in junior year and did a UROP at MIT in the spring. She completed a thesis in her senior year and was accepted to grad school.
Since she graduated pretty recently, Kieran was able to provide practical points to consider when thinking about choosing careers to pursue, such as: What would you want to life to look like? What would you want it to look like when you’re not at work? What would your every day life be like? In addition, location may be important for you. She admitted that you could love the work that you do, but “still not as happy as you could be” because of the everyday environment. Is there a window? Do you want to be closer to family? What type of city to do you want to be in?
“When you’re in college, it’s hard to imagine you’ll have to make decision not related to your career trajectory.” Kieran said, but you may have a family and your priorities may change. These things may be worth considering when you’re thinking of long-term plans. Kieran decided not to continue academic research after a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship, even though she was really invested in it, because “it didn’t mesh well with what [she] wanted in life”. The work-life balance was too demanding and her priorities had changed. Therefore, she switched jobs to better suit them.
While she encouraged us to “just do it” if we knew where we wanted to go, Kieran also acknowledged that it’s okay to not know. “A lot of my friends were insecure because others were so prepared,” she said, “but then the stock market crashed and things changed. I have a friend who worked on Wall Street that now runs a yoga studio.” So having it all together in college isn’t that big of a deal. If there’s anything that I’ve learned through my conversations with all of these incredible alumnae, it’s that sometimes we just have to be patient, give ourselves time to experience more of life before deciding, and to adapt to our changing personal and social contexts if needed.
Since this is my last letter to you, I thought it’d be nice to put together a list of professions that Kieran brainstormed during our talk. She was very vocal about how you can have a profession outside of academic research and primary care with a degree in STEM, such as:
– Bioinformatics (a great way to combine biology and CS): analyze big data (thousands of numbers) to look for large patterns by coding
– Diagnostics: testing tissues, blood, etc. for genetic mutations, proteins, viruses, or bacteria. You could actually get a job in such a lab with just a bachelor’s degree, although you would have less responsibility and autonomy in comparison to a person with more schooling
– Clinical director of a diagnostic lab: you sign off on all diagnostic testing after a technician in the lab has analyzed it. This type of job requires you to enter a fellowship program after you complete your PhD so that you also get an MD to authorize clinical diagnosis and may include more paperwork/oversight versus actual bench work
– Pharmaceuticals: there is a variety of careers that can be found in the pharmaceutical industry, including research, but you could also be a point person for a specific drug and communicate between all the specialties (from the researchers, to clinicians, to hospitals) to promote proper development and marketing
– Medical writing: you could translate scientific discoveries into language that is accessible to the general public
– Teaching: be it in elementary school, high school, or universities, you could cultivate an interest in science in your students
PS- If you would like to talk to Kieran more about her experiences, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
PPS- If you’re interested in the SMART program, check out their website: https://www.bcm.edu/education/schools/graduate-school-of-biomedical-sciences/diversity/smart