Yeonwoo Lebovitz: Introduction

The PhD/Postdoc blog series features scientists at different stages of career development as they explore and plan for their next steps. Over the course of six months, Yeonwoo Lebovitz, Anthony Franchni, Megan Duffy, and Celia Fernandez will give monthly updates on their progress. Check back every Wednesday  for new posts.

Current position: PhD student in Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health
Program start date: August 2014
Institution: Virginia Tech

Hello Colleagues!

I will be spending the next six months with you as one of the PhD student voices on the BEST blog. I hope to convey what it’s like to be in the middle of one’s graduate studies when any sort of post-doctoral life seems all but a tiny glimmer in the distance. And yet, this is also the best time to consider career paths as a reminder to ourselves about our broader goals.

As for me, I am interested in pursuing a career in science policy. However, I’m finding that this is still quite a vague statement. It could mean scientists involved in policymaking, or policymakers involved in science, or some combination of both. Similarly, careers in science policy do not seem to denote a particular path or schooling. I plan to explore these different definitions of and roads to “science policy” in the coming months. But first, by way of introduction, here is a brief self-interview:

Who am I?
I am an incoming third year PhD student in the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health program at Virginia Tech. I am based in neuroscience and microbiology labs at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in order to study the impact of maternal gut microbiota on neurodevelopment.

What’s up with my name?
At the time, I thought it would be funny to take my husband’s last name.

How did I get here?
Well, I certainly didn’t take the short route. I was a humanities major in undergrad, and then gained exposure to biomedical sciences through jobs in biopharmaceutical industry, academia, and non-profit public health.  At the latter, I had the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects—from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis to commercial sexual exploitation of children—that often held direct implications for public health. I loved this job and, in particular, awed at how scientific evidence was used to shape future public policy. I wanted to be able to contribute my expertise in a similar way, so I set out to develop an area of expertise via research doctorate education.

Where am I headed?
This is a tough question for anyone, let alone a PhD student in the middle of a PCR experiment that has yet to be successful. The best I can answer at present is that when the Virginia Tech BEST program (VT-BEST) offered a choice of two career guides during a professional development course, I eschewed the academic one for the alternative careers book. I am also finding that a PhD does not necessarily grant total expertise in a research field, although it may help to identify better ways to ask scientific questions. As such, I hope I will have better defined questions for myself at the end of my blogging tenancy in February 2017.

Any science policy-related events coming up?
Yes! Here are two events currently on my calendar:

  • Research!America’s National Health Research Forum will hold its annual “Straight Talk” meeting in Washington, DC, on September 8, 2016, to discuss the state of biomedical research in the United States. Panelists include heads of major federal agencies (e.g., FDA, NIAID, CDC), as well as representatives from private industry, academia, patient advocacy, non-profit organizations, and manufacturers.
  • On September 29, 2016, current and previous AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows will be featured in the 4th Annual Visualizing Science Policy 20×20 meeting in Washington, DC.

See you next month!

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