Valuable and Limitless: Lessons Learned as a FUTURE Participant

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

Valuable and Limitless: Lessons Learned as a FUTURE Participant

Sharon Lee

When I first joined the FUTURE Program as a 2nd-year graduate student who was yet to take her qualifying exam, I was one of the youngest people in my cohort. It was evident from the first FUTURE Program workshop that I had no idea what I was doing there, while others in our group had clear goals of what they wanted out of their time in the FUTURE program. Now, as a 3rd year Ph.D. candidate who just had her first thesis committee meeting, I feel fortunate to have participated in FUTURE. The FUTURE experience changed my perception on what I could and should be doing as a graduate student, and I will forever be grateful for it.

I am a proud immigrant, first-generation college student, and now the first and only one in my family to pursue a Ph.D. in STEM. Throughout my educational and professional journey, I have always had to fend for myself when it came to academics. I chose to major in a subject field that my parents were completely unfamiliar with. It was hard, but I did not let the challenges deter me. Likewise, when I started graduate school at UC Davis, I naturally continued to advocate for myself as I did when I was an undergrad. I looked for opportunities that would help me grow as a scientist beyond the lab, and participation in the FUTURE program was one of them.

FUTURE provided a safe space for all of us – graduate students and postdocs – to have an open dialogue about topics that worried us, like our future. There were a lot of lessons we learned during the 10 weeks that we spent together. I realize not everyone has access to this kind of intensive program and thus, for my fellow researchers in training, I want to share two of the most important lessons that I am grateful to have learned from FUTURE:

You are a valuable asset

The most gratifying moment I encountered during FUTURE was when I realized that I am a valuable asset. As scientists, we are not trained to acknowledge our accomplishments or take a moment to appreciate how far we have come. So, it is not surprising that when it comes to advocating for ourselves, we fall short. For our FUTURE workshop on transferable skills, I still remember sitting there, wondering to myself whether I could do anything else besides working in a lab. I have worked exclusively in labs all my life and I am still training to become a better scientist. Little did I realize that in addition to learning how to meticulously pipet precise amounts of solutions, I am picking up so many other capacities in graduate school.

Just to mention a few, I am currently managing multiple experiments for my thesis project, mentoring a group of undergraduate students, and communicating my work to experts in the field and also the general public. These skills and experiences can be applied to any job in any sector. FUTURE taught me how to believe in myself and gain confidence in the power and flexibility of my doctoral training.

The sky’s the limit

When I applied for graduate school, my goal was to become a principal investigator with my own lab doing cutting-edge research. That was the dream; or rather that was all I knew back then. It was not until my participation in the FUTURE program that I learned about other career opportunities for people with my skillset.

One career I encountered for the first time through the FUTURE Partner Network is a Medical Scientist Liaison (MSL). This is a healthcare consulting profession role that establishes and maintains a relationship between leading physicians and biotech companies. An MSL shares the information that a company gathered during the research and development process with physicians to provide them with a better understanding of how new products might benefit their patients. The MSL also solicits feedback about the products from the physicians so that the companies can work to further improve their inventions.

The FUTURE program not only introduced me to this career option, but also organized an informational interview with one of the MSLs in the FUTURE Partner Network who had herself graduated with a Ph.D. from UC Davis. The horizon seems wider now that I have seen the variety of fulfilling careers open to people with my training.

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