Following Your Passions to the Right Career Path
Those that know me know that I shy away from making big decisions. I have always been afraid to make the wrong choice, so I tend to do anything I can to keep my options open as long as possible. During my time at Hamilton, I majored in Mathematics and Neuroscience and was on the pre-med track. I was incredibly passionate about both majors, I found the material both fascinating and challenging, and the camaraderie of office hours helped me through many challenging periods. I often debated dropping one major, but it broke my heart to think of letting either go.
Over the summers between school years, I held internships at home in Boston. During the summers after my freshman and sophomore year, I worked at an Alzheimer’s Disease research lab at Massachusetts General Hospital. During this time, I learned technical lab skills, participated in large laboratory meetings and journal clubs, and learned about the publishing process. This work culminated in my first scientific publication. I learned what research meant outside of a classroom setting, and that experiments did not always go to plan and often the results are unexpected. The summer after my junior year, I wanted to see how I could use both of my majors together, so I interned in a lab at the Harvard School of Public Health and Dana Farber Cancer Institute that focused on Biostatistics and Computational Biology. During my time in this lab, I taught myself how to program in R and used my new skills to compare gene expression differences between ovarian cancer and healthy patients. The work was incredibly powerful, but I found myself missing getting my own hands dirty in the lab.
During my senior year, I decided I would work for a few years after I graduated to get some experience and to try to figure out my path. My first job out of Hamilton was at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals in the Innovative Medicines Graduate Program. This was a two-year position during which I rotated into three different departments within Research and Development. My particular rotations were in Pathology, Translational Safety: Modeling and Simulation, and Oncology Bioscience. Since AstraZeneca is a global company, there were cohorts of this program in Waltham, MA, Manchester, UK, and Gothenburg, Sweden, so three times over the duration of the program, we gathered in one of these locations and worked on personal development and leadership skills. I learned and grew immensely during this program and worked with some incredibly passionate people. I had entered this program hoping to find one rotation that stood out to me as my “calling” but found myself with a bit of a problem – I enjoyed all three so much and wanted to be in a position where I did not have to choose.
At the end of the program, I decided to try working at a biotech startup and I have been here almost one year. I work for Unum Therapeutics, which is a clinical stage pharmaceutical company that works on developing a universal cellular immunotherapy to treat multiple cancers. The company is based off of a novel technique called ACTR (antibody coupled T-cell receptor). Currently, the company is small with about 50 employees, and much of the focus is on Research and Development. I am a Senior Research Associate in Drug Discovery, meaning that I am working on understanding new antibody pairs for our ACTR technology, in addition to anything else that comes up. As is typical of a startup, I wear many hats, and so each day looks very different. I run a wide variety of experiments and do data analysis and a little bit of programming, all of which lead to important decision making for the company. We are currently working towards clinical validation, and it’s a very exciting time to be a part of this company. Internally, we are very transparent – we have weekly meetings and presentations from different departments of the organization, so we are all connected to what is happening in terms of business development, research, and especially the clinical trials. We all get to see how our daily work feeds into the aims of the company, which is very exciting and very different then the experience one can get in a larger company. My colleagues and supervisor are incredible. I am astounded every day by the passion and drive of everyone here – we work incredibly hard, but also find time to have social events both at work and outside of the office. I feel lucky to have found a company that allows me to apply both of my majors and be on the forefront of medical technology.
Hamilton has a long history of connecting students with alumni and parents whose advice, expertise, and resources help talented young people achieve success for themselves and in their communities.
My advice for students would be…
- Ask for help! Ask your professors, your parents, your friends, and your parents’ friends about what they do. Ask if there are any opportunities for you to learn. Ask to shadow or meet for coffee, and see if their career or path appeals to you.
- Diversify your experiences – try different things, maybe something slightly different or out of your comfort zone feels better than what you thought you should do.
It’s okay to not know exactly what your path is. I struggled with this (and still do) but I am extremely happy where I am now. If you follow your passions and surround yourself with other passionate people, you will find a path that feels right.