by Hannah Langley ’21
Providence College boasts impressive science departments that include biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, computer science, and more. These majors all fall under the academic umbrella known as STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
PC’s science departments want to take a particular interest in successful women in scientific industries and fields by holding a speaker series called Women in STEM, which helps to inspire not just women at PC, but all students in the field of science to grow in their careers and create successful and fulfilling futures.
This past Tuesday, October 23, Dr. Katherine L. Lee, an associate research fellow and medicinal chemist at Pfizer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Dr. Sarah Seaton, a senior scientist at Indigo Ag, a start-up agricultural company, came to speak to PC students about their educational backgrounds, how they grew their careers, and helpful tips they followed, or wish they had followed, that led them to where they are today.
When discussing college life, Lee and Seaton had somewhat different experiences. Lee, who had grown up in a small town in Massachusetts, decided to go to Yale University and study chemistry.
“I really had to raise the level of my game,” recounted Lee as she reminisced on her college experience.
Seaton, who grew up in a small town in North Carolina, decided to stay local, and went to High Point University.
Seaton talked about how she did not want to go to a big institution and liked the idea of a liberal arts education, but she knew that would make advancing in her career much harder. “I knew I needed to look outside for research opportunities to get the experience that would be important in my career,” said Seaton.
She also emphasized the fact that because she went to a smaller liberal arts college, she took every advantage she could to get the most out of her education.
“I squeezed out every bit from any opportunity I got myself into,” recalled Seaton, ending her four years in college with a degree in biology and a degree in chemistry, as well as taking any opportunity she could to do research both on and off campus.
One of the points both Lee and Seaton emphasized was the idea of starting to build networks and relationships now. Both talked about how influential and helpful their advisors in both college and graduate school had been in their careers expressing their gratitude.
Seaton implored the student listeners now to get to know their professors not only in class or lab, but outside in TA jobs or tutoring, as well.
On joining the workforce, Lee gave helpful advice to the PC students, including about maintaining and building relationships and networks and constantly going to interviews.
Lee suggests that going to an interview for a job you may not even want can be helpful in the long run, says it helps you not only get experience, but helps you understand what you are looking for in a job.
“It’s good to be honest with yourself and open to what you really want,” said Lee. “If you feel like you aren’t being yourself in an interview, it might not be the right fit for you,” she continued, “just trust your instincts.”
Lee and Seaton talked about what they thought was most important when working in the scientific field, or any field for that matter.
“Look for opportunities that challenge you and keep you growing,” said Lee about finding an interesting and fun career. “There isn’t just one straight path in chemistry.”
Seaton mentioned how her career has taken some ups and downs, as she went from having an assistant professor position at the University of North Carolina Asheville to going back to Boston to work in laboratories at Harvard Medical School. “On paper, it was definitely a step down in my career,” said Seaton. “[Being a professor] was a great job, but it turns out it wasn’t what I wanted.”
Seaton stressed to her listeners that they shouldn’t get discouraged if something like this should happen to them in their careers, saying, “Your career is flexible; there will always be other positions, just find what makes you happy.”
Both Lee and Seaton now have successful careers in their prospective industries. Lee is currently leading a team of chemists at Pfizer who are working on a successful project currently in phase two of clinical trials. Seaton is now pursuing her career in microbiology at Indigo Ag, and leads a team of about six female scientists.
Both stressed the fact that their careers are just examples of the many careers chemists, biologists and other science majors can achieve.
Seaton even used the examples of some of her friends who used their scientific knowledge to open bakeries and breweries! “There are many career opportunities, even with just a Bachelor’s degree,” said Seaton.
As a resource for chemistry students at PC, Lee recommends visiting the online site for the American Chemical Society (ACS) to explore different career opportunities, resources, and more information.