PREMEDS, USE YOUR SUMMER WISELY!

November 8, 2019

Summers for premed students are super super important . I can’t over emphasize how important it is for pre-health students to do something productive during their summer breaks. Summer provide an opportunity to add some of the necessary experiences that help make up a competitive application for professional school. This post is long, but valuable. Take it in sections.

I: DO’S AND DON’T’S FOR PRE-MED SUMMER

DO SOMETHING!

– Do something that will somehow help support your application when you apply to professional school.   This doesn’t necessarily mean research, but you want to do something that enhances your application in a positive way.   It should be something that helps in your personal growth, demonstrates traits about you that are unique; or demonstrates traits professional schools are looking for.

DO HAVE A PLAN

– Planning is the cornerstone to for success and decreased stress as a pre-health student. The only way to ensure you don’t end up doing nothing during the long long days of summer is to have a plan. Having a plan means you know what things smart premeds do with their summers AND you have things arranged for how you will be able to engage in those activities.

DON’T GO HOME AND WASTE AWAY

– Whatever you’re doing, it has to be something that you can frame to help you be a more competitive applicant for professional school. Do not go home and chill, work at a retail clothing store.

 

 

II: COMMON THINGS STUDENTS DO DURING THE SUMMER

FRESHMAN: Shadowing, volunteering, taking classes. Some premeds do not take general chemistry as freshmen. If you that’s you, consider taking it in the summer after your freshman year. If you don’t take general chemistry as a freshman, you will have to take it during the summer if you want to course through undergrad without having to take a gap year.

Here’s why:

Scenario A: Freshman year no chemistry. Sophomore year: General chemistry Junior Year: Organic Chemistry. Senior year: Biochemistry.   This student can’t take the MCAT or apply to medical school until the summer AFTER senior year because Biochem is on the MCAT.

Scenario B: Freshman year: General chemistry. Sophomore year: Organic Chemistry. Junior Year: Biochemistry. This student can take the MCAT/ apply to medical school the summer between the junior and senior year

 

SOPHOMORE: This summer is typically spent engaging in summer research, or a summer enrichment program (preferably on with shadowing as a part of the program!) Can also use this time to get more volunteering hours. Look for volunteer opportunities in a setting where you are serving others, meeting the needs of the underserved, or oft forgotten ( elderly, children, those with physical or intellectual disabilities, people with chronic illnesses, the homeless, immigrant population, populations unlike yourself.

 

JUNIOR: Finishing up last minute MCAT prep, getting in some last shadowing hours. A well disciplined student who can commit to preparing for and taking the MCAT in May, can consider research during this summer. Otherwise I DO NOT advise doing research during this summer while last chance ( aka midnight hour) studying for the MCAT, during those last 4-6 weeks before taking a late June or early July test.

 

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO REASON A PREMED STUDENT SHOULDN’T BE ABLE TO FIND SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE TO DO DURING THE SUMMER!   OPPORTUNITIES ABOUND! YOU JUST HAVE TO SEEK AND PLAN.

 

 

III: HOW TO APPROACH YOUR SEARCH

There are tons and tons of opportunities. Don’t see that as overwhelming. Rather see that as more opportunities that you can compete for, and a greater likelihood that you’ll get one. So here are some tips to sift through these lists.

Before you even begin to think about looking at programs, you have to have some way to keep track of important information. You want to make your search productive. So first:  CREATE A SPREADSHEET ON YOUR COMPUTER, or USE INDEX CARDS to write down the elements of the different programs you will be searching for. As you look up programs and decide you’re going to apply, you want to know several things: duration of the program, start/end dates, application deadline, compensation, number of recommendations you need, other program requirements.

  1. The location approach: “Hmm…I think it would be really cool to live in NYC at some point in my life.”  Think of some cities you want to visit and see and spend time. Use the AAMC database and do a query for programs in those cities or states.
  1. The dream school approach: “Hmm…I really want to go to UAB for dental school. That’s my dream school.”Then consider looking for summer program at that school. Doing a summer program there gives you the opportunity to make connections and potentially get your foot in the door.
  1. The homebody approach: “Hmm…I know I need to do something productive, but I also know I need to be home and get my mom’s yummy cooking.”  If this is you, then limit to your search to places closer to home or within driving distance of mom.
  2. The random approach: “Hmm…I’m just gonna go down this RIT list and pick some at random based on the descriptions given and see what I get.”

 

 

 

IV: TROUBLE-SHOOTING TIPS

  1. If you click on a link and get an error message, don’t despair. Simply google: “summer premed research program at ____________ (whatever university the original link was for).
  2. If you click on a link and the application is for 2019.  Don’t give up and say Dr. Haughton’s post is useless. Simply google “summer premed research program at ___________(whatever university the original link was for).  If that still doesn’t work, it is possible that the application for 2020 is not yet available, but you can estimate that the deadline will be around the dates of last years deadline, so you can keep that date in mind as your prepare the application materials, then check back in a week or two for the updated application. If that still doesn’t work, look and see if there is a program coordinator or contact on the 2018 application. You can contact that person and ask when the 2020 application will be available.
  3. DON’T GIVE UP!  THERE ARE TONS OF PROGRAMS. IF ONE LINK DOESN’T WORK, AND THE OTHER TIPS ABOVE DON’T WORK, MOVE ON TO THE NEXT, CHECK OUT THE REQUIREMENTS AND APPLY!!!!

 

 

V: SUMMER OPPORTUNITIES

  1. AAMC Summer Program Database A great place to start with looking for programs. Has a searchable database where you can look by location, or program type, etc.

 

  1. ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY  Massive database of summer programs. This differs from the AAMC list, in that it also includes opportunities in industry as well as in academic.

 

  1. SHPEP A program so dear to my heart, it deserves it’s own listing. I love SHPEP. I did this program as a sophomore and I just love it and highly recommend it. It doesn’t pay as much as summer research but the relationships, the advising, and connections one can make are valuable.

 

  1. WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY LIST OF PROGRAMS . List of programs compiled by Wesleyan University. https://www.wesleyan.edu/careercenter/students/health/summer-post-bac-opportunities.html#

 

  1.   SWARTHMORE LIST OF PROGRAMS. INCLUDES SOME DENTAL AND PUBLIC HEALTH PROGRAMS LIST OF DENTAL PROGRAMS

 

6. LIST OF DENTAL PROGRAMS Not a long list, but a list none the less.

 

7. TULANE LIST.  This list has something some of the others don’t. It has lists of clinical opportunities, international opportunities, and summer camps,

 

Alright, that’s it. Happy searching!  Please don’t let the summer catch you working at The Gap!

 


WHAT SMART PREMEDS DO FOR THE SUMMER

November 5, 2018

I love summer!  Its my favorite time of air.  Easy breezy, laid back, lots of outdoor activities. While the rest of the world is enjoying the sun, smart premeds should be engaging in activities that enhance their applications of professional school. Lucky, for them, there are TONS of opportunities for the student who is actively engaged in trying to find something to do. As you explore the lists below, consider programs in cities you’ve always wanted to visit, schools you may (unjustly) feel unqualified to get into, schools you are considering for professional school.

A general timeline of what students should be do with their summers is:

FRESHMAN:  Take general chemistry ( if you didn’t take during your freshman year), shadow, volunteer, health related work experience, enrichment programs

SOPHOMORE: Research, shadowing, volunteering,

JUNIORS:  Test prep**, Research*, shadowing, volunteering  (This should be tail end of your test prep, as its recommended that you all not take the MCAT any later than June/July at the latest.  Do not plan to do research while prepping for the MCAT.  If you plan to do research this summer, take the MCAT in April/May before your program begins. )

SENIOR:  Chill before med / dental school starts

 

(Trouble shooting tips before you attack this list)

  1. If you click on a link and get an error message, don’t despair. Simply google: “summer premed research program at ____________ (whatever university the original link was for).
  2. If you click on a link and the application is for 2018.  Simply google “summer premed research program at ___________(whatever university the original link was for).  If that still doesn’t work, it is possible that the application for 2019 is not yet available, but you can estimate that the deadline will be around the dates of last years deadline, so you can keep that date in mind as your prepare the application materials, then check back in a week or two for the updated application. If that still doesn’t work, look and see if there is a program coordinator or contact on the 2018 application. You can contact that person and ask when the 2019 application will be available.
  3. DON’T GIVE UP!  THERE ARE TONS OF PROGRAMS. IF ONE LINK DOESN’T WORK, AND THE OTHER TIPS ABOVE DON’T WORK, MOVE ON TO THE NEXT, CHECK OUT THE REQUIREMENTS AND APPLY!!!!

WHERE TO FIND THESE OPPORTUNITIES

Aamc.org  Summer Programs  database https://services.aamc.org/summerprograms/

http://www.naahp.org/StudentResources/summeropportunities.aspx

https://people.rit.edu/gtfsbi/Symp/summer.htm

https://www.wesleyan.edu/careercenter/students/health/summer-post-bac-opportunities.html#minority

http://www.swarthmore.edu/health-sciences-office/summer-opportunities

https://www2.clarku.edu/departments/prehealth/resources/minority.cfm

https://www.med.upenn.edu/pcedher/pre-med.html

https://www.cc-seas.columbia.edu/preprofessional/health/summer/additional

https://advising.tulane.edu/pre-health/resources/summer-intern

http://explorehealthcareers.org/en/careers/programs

Good ole Google!  “summer undergrad premed programs”

 

 


Growth Year Chronicles – Ashlea Hendrickson M.S. – Part 2

April 6, 2018

grad pic1

Part 2 of Ashlea’s interview.

HealthOU: How did you get shadowing experience? 

I looked at the hospital’s website and searched the department I was interested in. Then I sent out emails to see if any of the physicians were accepting new students to shadow them (because I also wanted to do research, I narrowed my search to physicians who also had ongoing research projects.)

 

HealthOU: How did you go about getting letters of recommendation from faculty after you graduated?

I made sure to take the time and form relationships with my professors. I became a TA at Oakwood and that helped me develop a wonderful relationship with one of my future recommenders. I also made sure to ask for my recommendation letters EARLY. I know that professors have their own, busy lives and so if I needed my recommendation letter by June, I began putting in my requests in JANUARY. Of course they didn’t write them as early as January (because I didn’t want to ask anyone last minute and risk them saying “no” or not having the time to write an absolutely beautiful one) and so I continued to send out email reminders for those who agreed to send letters on my behalf. This method ensured that by the time I needed to send my application off, all of my letters were in! (Note: I ONLY asked professors who I knew, knew about my character/ work ethic well enough to send out brilliant, non-generic letters on my behalf)

 

HealthOU:What did you learn from your gap year experiences?

Man, what DIDN’T I learn? I learned about patience, perseverance, and what it meant to stand up for what you believe in, even if you’re the only one doing so. I was also able to push through MANY failures and develop new cultural sensitivities thanks to the many new friendships I formed.

 

HealthOU:What were some of the benefits to taking some time off between undergrad and professional school?

Although I don’t really consider my gap year as “time off.” I can see the benefits of taking a year off from school completely and just giving yourself a chance to “breathe” and re-focus on what you consider to be important. Many of my friends who took gap years went abroad and widened their knowledge and appreciation for the world as a whole. I think that travelling during one’s gap year is an amazing thing! However, It also doesn’t hurt to simply get a job and begin paying off those student loans (if you have them), or begin saving to invest in your future.

 

HealthOU: How do you plan to utilize your MS degree?  

I believe that attaining my MS had a huge impact on my acceptances into various medical schools. My Master’s degree program was developed to serve as a bridge between students and various professional schools. Although I don’t plan on utilizing my degree on its own, I do plan on using the lessons I learned from completing my MS, to become a well-rounded MD!

 

HealthOU:What advice do you have for current premeds hoping to enter professional school? 

I’ll make these bullet points because I feel like everyone loves bullet points!

  1. Build your relationship with God upon a ROCK not sand. (For those who may not understand this analogy, this means that your relationship with God should be firm enough to withstand the test of time. Trials WILL come. Trust me, they will. And there may be times when God is the only “person” you can lean on and the only one to bring you through to the other side of the trial. Thus, it is important to develop a relationship with God like you would a best friend. Maintain a healthy prayer life and find like minded friends who will PRAY FOR/WITH YOU especially during the times when you feel like you can’t pray for yourself.

2. Stay FOCUSED! (Don’t let the thrills of college life keep you for focusing in your studies! Take the required classes for the professional school you intend to enter and do WELL in those classes. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to get tutors if needed. The goal is to show these professional schools that you’re up to the challenge that will be presented to you!)

3. Develop a relationship with your PROFESSORS (Especially those in the field that you intend to pursue. For example: Science professors, for those interested in medicine. Decide which ones you would love to have recommendation letters from and invest in a relationship with those professors! Take your studies seriously so that they have nothing but great things to say about you.

4. VOLUNTEER, VOLUNTEER, VOLUNTEER!!! (I cannot stress how important it is that you give back to your community in SOME way. As a future physician, your goal is to help those in need of your services. How will it look if you claim to want to be a physician, and yet you’ve never taken the time to help with the needs of your own community?! Although medical-related volunteer work looks great, there are many other volunteer opportunities around you as well. There are TONS of ways, both big and small, to get involved with your community and make a difference

5. Get involved with RESEARCH! (Spend the summers, and even school years, enhancing yourself as a student by learning about the scientific world! Whether it’s wet-lab or clinical research, get involved! There are PLENTY of PAID summer research internships at your disposal. Not only are these GREAT experiences but they also make a huge and POSITIVE impact on your medical school application! Just saying.)

6. If you know what type of medicine interests you, SHADOW a physician/surgeon in that field! (Even if you’re not sure, it’s still great to immerse yourself in some type of medical shadowing. Now only does this open your eyes to future possibilities/give you a glimpse of your future responsibilities as a physician, but it also gives you wonderful networking access! In fact, one of my recommenders for medical school was a physician that I had researched with/shadowed and I believe that positively reflected on my application.)

7. Get involved with campus organizations! (This includes not only pre-med clubs like the Minority Association of Premedical Students aka MAPS, but also other organizations that catch your interest. Although I was a pre-med student, I was also involved in non-medical organizations like the Aeolians, the Spreading Oaks newspaper team, Alpha-Chi honors society and I even held a leadership position as Social-VP of my class for two years! Although these clubs weren’t medical-oriented, they still shaped me into the person I am today, which I believe made me a well-rounded applicant!)

8. Enjoy your journey! (You’re a future medical professional! Do you know how AMAZING that is? Stay true to your goals and enjoy yourself knowing that this is what you want and through God, this is what will come into fruition. YOU ARE A STAR, and God has great plans for your future!)

 

 

 

Ashlea is a Georgia-born and raised graduate of Oakwood University. She completed her Master of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Health Science at Drexel University in the spring of 2017.  Her hobbies include cooking, singing, writing, watching Korean dramas and painting. She is nearing the end of her first year at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. 


Growth Year Chronicles – Ashlea Hendrickson M.S. – Part 1

April 6, 2018

 

grad pic1I love love love a good growth year story! For several reasons:

1. Most students will not be accepted to medical school on their first attempt, so the growth year story is the actually the story of the majority.

2. I consider myself a very hopeful person, and I’m definitely hopeful when it comes to encouraging prehealth students that despite challenges or setbacks, God will work things out for them.  I spend a large part of my time doing that.

3.  It helps to have a couple witnesses that can testify that the encouragement I give isn’t bogus lol. So if a recent graduate who students saw, remember, and maybe even knew has a growth year story, it helps them to see that if God did it for so and so, He’ll do it for them as well.

I’m excited to share the growth year story of Ashlea!  Ashlea is completing her first year of medical school. I am excited for her journey thus far and the journey ahead.

HealthOU: When did you graduate from Oakwood?

  • In 2015! (whoot whoot!)

 

HealthOU: Describe your activities post Oakwood?

  • Post Oakwood, I 1) moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 2) enrolled in a 2-year Master’s degree program 3) graduated with a Master of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences and 4) re-applied for and got accepted into medical school!

 

 HealthOU: Did you apply to medical school while you were at Oakwood? What factors do you think contributed to not being accepted that first go around?

  • Yes I applied in 2014. I believe that my MCAT score as well as lack of shadowing contributed to not being accepted my first go around.

 

HealthOU: What did you do differently when you reapplied?

  • I focused on improving myself as an applicant. I shadowed a physician and was able to get a recommendation letter from her as well! I improved my MCAT score as well by taking classes that fixed my weak subject areas.

 

HealthOU: When did you take the MCAT? How did you study?

  • [I took the MCAT twice]. The first time (as far as I can remember), I studied during the summer after my junior year of undergrad. I attended a Princeton Review program and spent the summer (May to July) attending classes from 8am-3pm (Mon-Fri) and then self study until like 9-10pm. (I’d say about ~12-15 hours a day depending on my focus/schedule for the day) But I also didn’t focus as much as I should have and enjoyed a lot of outings  with my friends. That was also a very emotional summer for me and so I think overall, a lot of factors contributed to my lower score the first time.

 

 HealthOU: What did you do differently the second time you took the MCAT?

[The second time around], I took the MCAT on June 2, 2016. I studied for the test by attending evening Princeton Review MCAT classes (offered by my graduate school), and then studying on my own using textbook and online resources (including completing MAAAAANY practice tests).

 

HealthOU: How long did you study the second time? 

I’d say overall I studied for about 7 months (vs the 2-3 months I studied the first time). I tried to study at least 3 hours a day on top of studying for my graduate classes but that varied depending on how much work I had in my class/if a test was coming up. Some weeks I’d dedicate Sundays to studying only for the MCAT.

 

HealthOU: How did you juggle applying to medical school while you were in a master’s program? How did you find time to study for the MCAT, work on personal statement,  etc

  • It was difficult I can’t lie. But I made a schedule and did my best to stick with it. I believe that scheduling out my day was the key to finding that balance and making sure I made time for what I wanted to accomplish. This wasn’t a perfect method and there were times when I’d ignore the schedule in order to get a few more hours of studying for my classes or to go out to eat with friends etc, but I tried my best to stick to it and I believe it paid off!

 

HealthOU: Did you plan on taking a gap year prior to graduating?

  • Prior to graduating, I did NOT plan on taking a gap year. I knew that the path I had ahead of me was going to be a tedious one and I wanted to get the ball rolling as soon as possible. Although my original “plan” (going straight into medical school after undergrad) didn’t come into fruition, I decided to continue my education via graduate school in order to keep my mind sharp and not become complacent with my situation. The goal of getting into medical school was still on the front burners!

 

HealthOU:Students often have a timeline in their heads and it can be discouraging to find yourself taking a gap year if you didn’t initially plan do.  Did you experience any of these feelings?

  • YES! When I was still in high school, I had an entire future mapped out in my head. This future did NOT include: an unsatisfactory MCAT score resulting in an initial round of medical school rejections and a May 2015 graduation with NO idea what the future had in store. So when I found myself in that exact situation, I was at a loss, both emotionally and spiritually. I found myself asking God, “Why?” Why did I work so hard during undergrad to keep my GPA above a 3.5? Why did I choose to spend most Saturday nights studying instead of thoroughly enjoying what the college social-life had to offer? Why did I sacrifice so MUCH, and still not end up where I wanted to be? The summer after graduating college was an incredibly difficult one where I had to regain the faith in my journey and understand that this was simply a “comma” not a “period” in my life. Depression and discouragement are REAL. Especially when you feel like your longtime dreams are slipping away. But once I came to the full understanding that God himself orchestrates my future and that God makes no mistakes, I began to re-build confidence in myself and grow not only as a person, but also as a Christian. When I think back to the years following that initial disappointment, I now understand EXACTLY why my path diverged the way it did. So much growth happened in these past two years and I will forever cherish my journey.

 

 

Ashlea is a Georgia-born and raised graduate of Oakwood University. She completed her Master of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Health Science at Drexel University in the spring of 2017.  Her hobbies include cooking, singing, writing, watching Korean dramas and painting. She is nearing the end of her first year at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. 

 

 

 

 


Consider Cost When Applying To Professional School

June 12, 2017

When choosing a professional school, there are many things to consider: location, proximity to family / support system, curriculum style, weather, small town vs city, etc. One very important factor that often gets overlooked is cost. The total debt for the average medical school graduate was $183,000 in 2015 and is expected to increase steadily from year to year.  While most students are simply focused on getting accepted to professional school, it’s extremely important for you to consider the costs of your prospective medical school and for cost to factor into the schools you apply to. In most cases, cheaper means lower quality. Luckily, that’s not the case with medical schools. While each school has its own nuances, challenges and air of competitiveness which can influence performance; for the most part, the education one will receive should be fairly uniform. So there is no need to fear that you are compromising quality for cost when you choose a school from this list. Furthermore, just taking a look at the list you will see that there are several well-known, well-respected institutions on the list. Here is a recently published list of the top 20 cheapest medical schools.  And because we never like to leave our future dentists outs, here is a short list of the most affordable dental schools.

One  way to decrease the amount of professional school debt is to do well on entrance exams and craft a very competitive application so you can qualify for the very limited number of academic scholarships that exist for professional school. Other options  to consider as you plan ahead for decreasing your total medical school costs are:

  1. National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program
  2. Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness
  3. Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program
  4. Army/Air Force Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program
  5. Army/Navy Healthcare Professions Loan Repayment Program
  6. Army/Air Force/ Navy Health Professions Scholarship Program 

These programs are competitive and not guaranteed to remain from one political administration to the next, especially the Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. 


Leveraging A Science Degree – Dr. Jeanette Richards Ph.D.

March 14, 2017

Jeanette Richards P&G Pic

I’m really excited about this interview!  One, Dr. Richards is our first non-Oakwood grad being featured and two, her experience highlights the secondary focus of this blog – showing students what options exist outside of medicine / dentistry.  Most times when students with science degrees think about doing research they think of research that still has a clinical emphasis or benefit. Dr. Richards started along this path but was able to translate the skills / knowledge she acquired in undergrad/graduate school to the beauty industry. See her story below…

HEALTHOU: When did your interest in and love for science emerge? 

Dr. Richards: My passion for science must have developed at a very early age.  It seems that I was always curious about living things in my surroundings that were unusual to me and that typically involved insects and unique plants.  By the time I was 8 years old, I had a fascination with ladybugs and was convinced that I could hatch them from ‘jumbie beans’ (brightly colored red seeds with a black spot) which are common in the Caribbean.  While I waited on my glass jar of beans to do something else besides rattle at the back of my sock draw, I moved on to collect live bugs in containers filled with leaves that I hoped would keep them happy and hidden in my school desk, but they were destined to escape in swarms and horrify my 3rd grade teacher.

Fortunately, that curiosity was nurtured early on by my mother Mrs. Vernice Hughes who even with meager funds, bought me tools such as a microscope and scientific books for kids.  My 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Carolyn Henry who believed that 5th grade was the foundation of the rest of your life, helped channel that interest with simple projects that introduced me to the scientific method in an age-appropriate way.

HEALTHOU: What did you major in in college? What led to your decision to pursue that particular course of study? 

Dr. Richards: I majored in biology at the University of the Virgin Islands because I had enjoyed that subject in high school more than any other and believed that would provide a good basis for my career; however once I took General Chemistry in college and survived the first semester of Organic, I was surprised to find that chemistry was equally interesting. hards:

HEALTHOU: Did you ever have an interest in pursuing medicine or any other “typical” science career?

Dr. Richards: I was on the pre-med track when I started undergrad as I had plans since elementary school to become a pediatrician.  The experience that profoundly changed my path began when my organic chemistry professor, Dr. Meledath Govindan asked me to be a part of his research program that focused on application of chemistry and chemical ecology for isolation of bioactive compounds from marine sources.  This was done in collaboration with Dr. Teresa Turner, a marine biology professor who would become one of the most influential persons in my life.  I was 18 years old and felt that I was making a difference at that age and could envision how my small contribution could help advance the knowledge in this area and lead to drugs for diseases such as cancer.  That was important to me because my grandfather was losing his fight with multiple myeloma.  In addition, I had worked at the hospital the year before and while that was valuable, the up-close experience with human suffering was difficult for me.Still, I kept the goal of medical school while I continued to conduct research in natural products chemistry and lipid biochemistry throughout college and trained for both the MCAT and GRE as required by my department.  My intent was to pursue the MD/PhD path until an academic advisor in my junior year helped me to identify what I really wanted to do and that was research.

HEALTHOU: How did you decide to pursue a PhD in biochemistry?

Dr. Richards: Most of the graduate programs to which I applied were pharmacognosy/medicinal chemistry ones because of my interest in drug discovery and biomedical research; however the interdisciplinary biochemistry program at The Ohio State University provided training and research opportunities at the interface of chemistry and biology that appealed to my desire to solve problems with multiple approaches.  I was fortunate to eventually work on breast cancer in a broad-based research group where my particular focus was on biochemical pathways of aromatase and cyclooxygenase regulation.

HEALTHOU: What did you do after graduate school?

Dr. Richards: My advisor, Dr. Robert Brueggemeier was a considerate person who allowed his students to continue to work in his lab during the transition period after grad school which enabled me to figure out my next steps.  For about a year I did a short post-doc focused on gene expression profiling of breast and colon cancer and dabbled in biochemistry lectures for pharmacy students while I explored future career paths.   

HEALTHOU: Oftentimes when students think of pursuing a terminal degree in a scientific discipline they usually think academic or clinically related research.  Did you ever imagine a career in industry during your training?

Dr. Richards: I never imagined a career in industry because I simply was not aware of the disciplines and depth of science involved in industry.  To be frank, there was a stigma associated with industry at least by ‘scientific purists’ that made it seem like less rigorous science and a less challenging path than academia.  I had also been supported by NIH training programs throughout my undergrad and grad studies and was interested in NCI but at the same time the additional 6 to 9 years of post-doctoral positions that would be required in order to be competitive for that or even academia was not enticing to me. Ultimately, I wanted to find a way to make a more immediate difference and pragmatically that led me to industry.

HEALTHOU: How did you land a job in industry?

Dr. Richards: Procter & Gamble has an annual 3-day recruiting conference for PhD students/recent PhD graduates who are under-represented minorities, which provides considerable insight into research careers in industry.  The program FIRST, was my first exposure to the actual science behind each consumer product which was impressive and the engineers and scientists who have thrived in these business areas.  I participated in this conference during my transitional post-doc period which enabled me to meet hiring managers, one of which was a Director in Beauty and that resulted in a day interview in the following month. 

 

HEALTHOU: What is a typical day at work like for you? 

Dr. Richards: My role is one where I spend more time in meetings and none at all in the lab.  Some other scientists spend more time at the bench which has its advantages.  I interact with people across different functions e.g. product development, legal and also with external academic research groups and business partners.  I spend dedicated hours on Fridays thinking and also reading scientific papers in more quiet time since my work arrangement allows me to work from home that day.  In a typical year I get to travel for clinical studies and to attend scientific conferences in areas such as microbiology and dermatology. 

HEALTHOU: Ok, so you work in industry for Procter and Gamble, what exactly does that mean?  What do you do? What are some projects that you are currently or have worked on in the past?

Dr. Richards: I develop technical strategies and lead multi-disciplinary teams to discover new materials and clinically evaluate potential technologies for next-generation hair and scalp benefits.  Much of what we do involves elements of the drug discovery process including genomics and other molecular profiling techniques, target identification and validation, bioassay development and in vitro analysis in pre-clinical models.  A key difference from basic research is that our work needs to have a business purpose and it is imperative to demonstrate how the work can impact business directions and/or results as soon as possible.

My current program is dandruff, which means that I have responsibility for the development of new materials for future Head and Shoulders™ products.  This has been a fascinating assignment as it requires me to learn about both scalp biology as well as the biology of the fungus Malassezia that lives on everyone but triggers a flaking, itchy response only in susceptible people.  There are several unanswered questions that we hope to resolve.

Five years ago, I led the initiation of a passion project to develop deep technical knowledge of African Ancestry hair, which was a venture I longed to explore as a new hire and continues to be my side project.  This has evolved into a much larger business effort to better serve these consumers of multiple hair textures and address their needs and frustrations.  It has been so rewarding to see the launch of Pantene™ Gold Series and know that my work helped to influence Black hair care and the creation of products to improve the lives of consumers who share both my hair struggles and its unique delights.

HEALTHOU:What tips would you give to a science undergrad student regarding success in undergrad and transitioning to graduate school and the workforce?

Dr. Richards: Practice.  It’s best to uncover what you enjoy and where your strengths lie if you put into practice what you learn in the classroom early on as a student.  Find ways to get internships or other experience in your field of interest that will allow you to take the appropriate time and efforts to determine whether this is something you truly want to pursue. 

I think the types of students who are drawn to STEM fields are often driven and self-disciplined with much of their lives mapped out; however I want to encourage those of you who don’t have a 5 or 10 year plan, who may need a break to assess your options or still have questions about your abilities or purpose.  There may be major obstacles that you have to overcome but if something is your passion, it will be hard to deny that part of yourself or escape your calling.  You owe it to yourself to follow it to success or until the road leads you to somewhere else where your talents can be better utilized.

As you transition to graduate school and beyond, always take time for personal development.  Diversify your skill-set by attending seminars or deliberately taking classes in subjects outside of your area of expertise.  Exposure to different disciplines allows you to make new observations and connections.  All of your experiences, no matter the degrees of productivity will add to who you are as a person and ultimately make you better equipped as a scientist or health professional.

Finally, no matter how much I’ve learned, my best tool remains prayer.  I pray about opportunities that I desire and for God to direct my path, to close doors not meant for me and to open my eyes to His purpose for my life.  In these times where both science and religion are under attack and are often positioned as disparate domains, I hope that you will continue to embrace and engage your faith in God for your best chances of success in your scientific/health career and other aspects of your life.

 

Dr. Jeanette Richards was born in Dominica and grew up in the US Virgin Islands. She currently works as a Senior Scientist in the Beauty Technology Division at Procter and Gamble. Among many other things, she is an amazing cook, baker and hostess. She credits family support and God’s providence and leading for her success.

 


Growth Year Chronicles – Lemuel Hackshaw Pt2

February 16, 2017

So what does a growth year look like?  Well for Lemuel, during his growth year, he played a Steinway, drove a Tesla, helped out in food banks, spoke at schools and juvenile detention centers, visited Crater Lake and host of other experiences he wouldn’t have had, had is “failure” to get into medical school on his first attempt hadn’t happened.   Like I told the students last night, sometimes “failure” is just a disguised opportunity for something amazing!   Enjoy these pictures from his experiences.