What is your scientific background?
I studied astronomy and physics before I was seduced by the dark side and got a bachelors degree in mathematics. I also have a bachelors degree in anthropology, both of which I received from the University of Arizona (UA). As an undergraduate, I conducted cosmology research under a NASA Space Grant Internship and self-directed a project on Ancient Egyptian number theory, cryptography, and religion.
Why did you decide to leave academia?
Although I love science, I realised as an undergrad that I do not enjoy conducting scientific research. My true passions lie in science communication, writing, and speaking, comedy, and helping scientists and engineers advance in their careers. So when I graduated, I applied for and got my first job as Director of Communications for the UA Physics Department. It was a dream position that combined all of my loves and put me on the path I am on now.
Why did you decide to start Quantum Success Solutions?
I launched my company in 2004 originally to serve as a platform to give comedic workshops and speeches about career development and professional advancement topics. At the time, I was directing the Professional Science Master’s (PSM) Degree Program in applied science and business at the UA and my job was getting my students (in applied biosciences, physics and mathematics) jobs. As I marketed the program to industry, I saw that my pupils were lacking certain skills that company representatives were requesting. I also noticed that many career advancement and exploration topics that business students learn on day one (such as networking and interviewing), were not being taught in STEM.
So I started giving workshops to my students, infusing them with humour, and pretty soon, I was being asked to speak across campus and elsewhere. The next step was giving workshops and keynotes at conferences. Meanwhile, I was also freelance writing. In 2009, I left the UA, and have since concentrated fully on my company, which now allows me the opportunity to speak, do “corporate comedy”, write freelance science and career articles (for publications like Naturejobs!), offer private career consulting and even plan events, like scientific meetings and fundraising galas. And now, my first book, Networking for Nerds, is about to be published this spring!
How do you want to help scientists in their careers?
The bottom line is I want scientists to understand how much value they have, that the skills they gain in pursuing science are applicable and coveted in multiple sectors and ecosystems, and they have a lot more power in determining their career path than they may think. My goal is to help them illuminate those vocational opportunities and truly understand that they define their own success. It’s their career, not their PI’s, so they hold the cards and get to say what is right for them. And finally, I want them to see that career bliss is attainable through networking and being entrepreneurial in their thinking – if there’s an opportunity you want, ask for it. If it doesn’t exist, create it yourself. You just might start a revolution.
Tell us something interesting about yourself.
In college, I learned how to play pool (billiards) and became quite good. In fact, I was a pool champion, garnering awards in tournaments (including a first place win) and representing the UA in national events. My nickname was Lady Dyn-o-mite. This story is even more amazing given the fact that when I started playing, I didn’t even know which end to hold the cue or where to rack the balls. Through continuous practice, I gained the skills to win, which taught me I could potentially do anything I set my mind to. I now teach this in my workshops.