I liked all subjects when I was in school. However, as I progressed through middle school and high school, I became more and more drawn to science and realized I wanted to study some form if science in college. I wasn’t excited about one particular disciple, rather, I found them all interesting in different ways. For example, as a kid, I loved putting together puzzles, especially 3D puzzles. So, imagine my excitement when my high school chemistry teacher challenged us to build 3D representations of drug molecules!
Deciding which specific type of science to study in college was extremely difficult. I changed majors within science several times, but ultimately decided to pursue food science. The two main reasons why I chose food science were: (1) I was required to learn many types of sciences (e.g. chemistry, microbiology, engineering, processing, biochemistry) and (2) I would finally be ENCOURAGED to play with food! I loved learning about which chemical reactions were involved in baking bread, which microbes in which foods could make you sick, the importance of controlling temperature in canning, and how to make freeze-dried ice cream! I loved learning about food science so much that I earned a B.S. and M.S. in Food Science and Human Nutrition from University of Florida and a Ph.D.in Food Science from University of Massachusetts Amherst. My graduate research focused on understating how antioxidants delayed lipid oxidation in seafood products.
Although my field of expertise is food science, I consider myself a scientist first and foremost. Since the food science curriculum required me to learn many types of science, I was able to build a unique toolbox of techniques and perspectives that could be applied to more than food science alone. There are two main paths I’ve seen people take post earning a Ph.D.in a scientific discipline. The first path involves continuing to work in the area of their expertise. So, think along the lines of being a professor at a university or a highly specialized scientist in industry. The second, which is my path, is applying what you’ve learned in a different way.
After earning my Ph.D., I wanted to stretch myself and apply my unique skill set in a non-food science way. An opportunity presented itself after months of job seeking, and I joined a group within Johnson & Johnson that would put my protein biochemistry background to the test. This was a cool concept, for sure. I’ve been with Johnson and Johnson for just about 5 years now, and I’ve had many exciting opportunities within the company. My career highlight, so far, was filing 6 patent applications on a technology I co-invented and having this technology perform well in a clinical trial (on people!). I’m currently the lead technology platform scientist for NEOSPORIN and I also have product development responsibilities. My first product is due to launch in late 2015!
The biggest word of advice I can give is… Believe in yourself. Only YOU have the power and responsibility to achieve your dreams.