Preparation Meets Opportunity
Career Story by Martha Harber, PhD (URMC MS 2003 and PhD 2006), Director of Field Applications at Unchained Labs
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity"—Seneca
Some people arrive on day one of graduate school ready to tackle their favorite project, cure a disease, or solve an important problem. I got to graduate school without one idea of what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I loved learning science and I could keep doing that while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Thankfully, my time as a graduate student at URMC was a transformational time of learning, not just science, but also about myself. Here are some of the lessons that I learned and helped get me where I am now: Director of Field Applications in the scientific instrumentation company, Unchained Labs.
When I am good at something, I enjoy it more, so it was important to identify my strengths and develop them. At first, I felt lost because I thought I was going to love doing research full time but once I realized that wasn’t as satisfying as I would have liked, I started to explore other options that allowed me to express my extroverted personality. Fortunately, I found my way to the Career Center on the River Campus. I had conversations with career counselors, looked through the research library, and took personality & aptitude tests. I also volunteered, took interesting courses outside my program, and joined extracurricular clubs. The most important club I joined was Toastmasters because that led me to discover my love for public speaking. Taking a course called “The Philosophy and Practice of Teaching and Learning Science” solidified my love for teaching.
Several of my peers were on similar journeys to find a career path away from the bench and I used their journeys to inspire my own. It may be easier to find mentors outside of the traditional academic careers now through programs like URBEST, but I encourage you to also be inspired by everyone around you. Has your lab mate found a love of writing? Is your classmate considering a career in patent law? There is nothing wrong with asking yourself, “Could that be me?” I peppered every new person that came into the lab with probing questions. When a Field Applications Scientist came in one day with a sales person, I was finally fascinated to learn about a career that required scientific knowledge, love of teaching, and communication skills.
While still in graduate school, I decided I wanted to be a field applications scientist, so I worked on my public speaking, teaching, and technology skill sets. Once I knew I did not want to pursue an academic career, it was sometimes tempting to put more energy into my fun extracurricular activities than in my sometimes-tedious graduate work. However, my mentors (Eric Phizicky, Beth Grayhack, and many others) taught me that to succeed in the future, I had to do my best work in the present. There is nothing gained in dreaming about the future if you are wasting the time you have in the present to learn valuable skills. In grad school, I learned perseverance and scientific discipline that I still apply every day.
I didn’t know what career path I would take after graduate school but I figured it out with a lot of help from counselors, peers, and mentors. I did my homework to figure out my strengths. I asked for help. I let others inspire me. I did my best work even on days when I wasn’t sure where that work would lead me. And then the day finally came when I got the phone call from a recruiter saying “Have I got the position for you!" Luckily for me, I was prepared.
Come hear more about my Career Story April 18 at 10 am in the Anderson Room (G-8534) and my Science Talk at 11:30 am in the Stotz Conference Room (3-7432). If you'd like to join us for lunch in the Stotz Room, please let Tracey Baas (firstname.lastname@example.org) know by Thursday April 13.
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