Careers in Science DC Trek 2018

Author: Erica Vossen, Class of '20


Today marked our first evening together on this Career Trek in Washington D.C. I happily found out that my roommate for the Trek, Rachel, and I were taking the same bus from ND and flight from Chicago to D.C. So, we got to know each other a little more and talked about all of our hopes for this trip. We both were feeling eager to get a sense of direction in our career paths, excited to learn about all the companies, and anxious to make a good impression for our hosts at the companies. We found another team member, Evan, was also on our flight, so the three of us split an Uber to our hotel.


After settling into our rooms and freshening up after long days of travel, we met in the lobby and went to dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill. Our group seemed to click instantly as we chatted about school and our jobs and research. The food was incredible and, as luck would have it, our waiter was an ND alumnus who eagerly struck up a conversation with us about football and our dorms and what we were doing in D.C.


We started to break the ice by having everyone share what they were nervous about for the Trek. Some were nervous about making a good impression, others were nervous about holding up conversations well enough, but all of us were still excited and felt very comforted knowing we could rely on each other. Our team leader, Robyn, was very encouraging and reassured us that our hosts at the companies genuinely want to help us explore and discern our career options as science majors. Then, we shared something that no one would know about us. We learned that Marci broke both wrists when she was 7, Rachel’s parents are avid Pokémon Go players, and Robyn was a rebellious toddler. I loved getting to know everyone a little more and felt really blessed to be on this trip with such energetic, kind people!


After dinner, our leaders went to get metro cards and us students decided to stroll around the city together. We happened upon a protest in front of the capital and managed to get a picture of all of us “holding up” the Washington Monument. We ventured to the WWII memorial, along the reflecting pond (much larger than our own under the dome), and up to the feet of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. It felt great to get our tourist-y urges out so we could put forth all of our energy into our companies in the next few days!


We ended the night with a quick meeting in the boys’ room to talk about which companies we were meeting tomorrow and what we might want to ask them about. Each student had one company to research before the Trek, so we did a quick debrief of the 4 for tomorrow. I then went back to my room to write down a few questions for each of our hosts, pick out my outfit for tomorrow, and get some shut-eye before our first big day!


So far, I’m having so much fun and my nerves have really calmed down after spending time with everyone. I think spending these few days very intently learning about different career paths and discerning which trajectories might fit me well will be invaluable. It’s going to be a great Career Trek!

- Erica Vossen, Class of '20




Today was our first full day of visiting companies. We went to the EPA, the Society for Science and the Public, and Booz Allen Hamilton. It was incredible to see ND alumni throughout the day and get a taste for what each person does with their science degree every day.


My biggest take-aways were network like your career depends on it (because it very well could), do what you love every step of the way, and don’t panic because you don’t have to have your first job be your dream job. Each person had a very unique path to their current job, but there were very common foundational themes. Everyone had tried out what they were interested in and then made a move to increase the parts they liked and decrease the negative sides of a job. I was also inspired to really dive in to my prospective industries by shadowing or interning because I learned that real experience is really the best key for discernment. So many people eased my nerves about having to make the perfect decision right out of college because it truly is possible to switch jobs or companies, or even choose to go back to school.


I was really surprised how much I loved Booz Allen Hamilton! I really hadn’t considered consulting before, but seeing their offices and hearing about their work was absolutely fascinating. They have beautiful collaborations of data analytics working with hard-science people working with technology experts working with engineers to create solutions to complex problems. I loved the idea of working for a healthcare company to help them better serve their patients, and I also loved the idea of working a 40-hour week that is demanding but manageable and fulfilling.


I found myself often asking about what inspires people most in their jobs and what makes them happiest about their work. Each employee seemed to light up when they talked about what they love, which is what I hope to find one day! I think I will carry that strategy into tomorrow by asking more about people’s passions so I can see how my interests might align with a certain industry. I also would love to ask more about each company’s core values, because the happiest employees seem to really share those values and fully believe in the mission of their work. I can’t wait for our next day!


- Erica Vossen, Class of '20




Another incredible day here in Washington! We started our day visiting with USAID, then stopped at the Smithsonian Institution. In the afternoon, we dove into the pharmaceutical industry with a visit to MedImmune and MacroGenics! There were yet again such a variety of careers that we saw not only between industries but within each company as well. We saw science helping people in urban planning, biology research, museum specimen preservation, studying synthetic lava rock, and targeting cancer cells with antibodies. There was a lot to take away from each visit, so it was fun to process everything we had seen over a team dinner at Panera followed by a student outing to get cupcakes and visit Georgetown University.


The overarching advice really aligned with what we heard yesterday, and what the Career Center at ND has been saying all along—do what you are passionate about, do good work for good people, make connections and reach out, change it up when you get bored, keep an open mind to paths you might not have considered, and think about unique ways you can use science to help others in a fulfilling way. Finding a work-life balance seems to be challenging in the science realm, but each professional made it a priority and figured out the right amount of (enjoyable) work that made their life most aligned with their values. I loved seeing so many women scientists who had started families and married men who had children and demands at home, especially since that is how I imagine my future will look and it is an aspect I need to consider when looking at careers!


My personal favorite moments from today included seeing all of the industry labs. I really had no idea what the difference is between academic and industry research, but seeing industry companies up and running started to paint that image in my mind. Our hosts explained the freedom they had to explore a variety of topics in industry, and how much they loved that their companies frequently remind them of the outcome of their work in patient care. We saw the same equipment and machines that we’ve used in our chemistry and biology course labs being used for real-world applications that will change so many lives. It was incredible for me to see up close and personally the science on the ground that can really shape the medicine of the future.


I also loved thinking about new avenues that interest me in regard to some of our panelists’ experiences. One studied the history of disability in America, which reminded me that I really have a passion for disability advocacy and engineering more inclusive and sensitive environments for those with disabilities. I was also very interested in the manufacturing and quality control sides to pharmacy, which are aspects of science that I don’t have much experience with yet. Finally, hearing the incredibly non-linear paths professionals took to get to the job they love encouraged me because I truly don’t have to pressure myself to find the perfect job right away. If I work hard, make choices to do what interests me, and connect with people, my path will work out just fine, too.


Time to wrap up our Trek in D.C. with a visit to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. I am excited to continue to learn more about careers in science and develop my discernment process as I decide what my next step will be!


- Erica Vossen, Class of '20




We ended our time here in D.C. today with a visit to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. After a quick stop to take professional headshot pictures in front of the White House, we learned all about FERC from an HR representative and a panel of employees. I loved learning about their internship opportunities, that FERC is a pretty politically insulated government agency with more regular hiring opportunities, the ways in which FERC employees work together to analyze the impacts of different project proposals on the environment, the need to be able to speak and write well in order to engage with the public, and how FERC is ranked number 1 among mid-sized federal agencies for work-life balance. While I’m not sure I see myself working in the environmental policy/environmental science industry, I do really appreciate the principles that FERC holds and want to find a company with similar values.


This Trek has been absolutely priceless for helping me with the career discernment process, learning to ask the right questions, and practicing interacting with professionals for informational interviews and networking. I feel so comforted in that there really are lots of options out there for us science majors that don’t want to go to medical school or end up in academia. Based on all of the companies we visited, I think I am going to look more into consulting and also pursue shadowing a speech pathologist so I can get the same kind of evaluation of what the actual job looks like. Reading about a career is one thing, seeing it in action and hearing from the professionals themselves is something entirely different!


This week, I learned the importance of interacting with individuals who have interesting jobs confidently and consistently. Almost every company reaffirmed my desire to gain experience simply by doing things that I love. I learned that reading, writing, and speaking well are essential skills for any job and desirable skills on any resume. I also learned that “companies are made of people,” as one MacroGenics scientist said, so enjoying the culture and atmosphere at your work place is so important. I was very happy to hear that finding a work-life balance really is possible, even in the first few years of work, by finding the right employer and expressing clear boundaries early and often. I met some incredible students that I can’t wait to get to know more over the years, and I got to ask our three Career Development representatives any question for three and a half days straight. Furthermore, I am definitely going to make appointments to visit the Career Center to keep myself on the right track in the discernment and employment process.


My next steps are to reach out to all of the professionals we visited and thank them again, update my resume, reach out to some local people in Denver with interesting jobs, make an appointment at the Career Center, and continue to process everything I saw and learned. The work is far from over, and I can’t wait to continue thinking about my future after this launch into well-rounded and fact-based thinking about careers. Science jobs are everywhere out there, I just have to keep my eyes open and never stop talking to people!


I can’t thank the Dean of Science, the Center for Career Development, and our leaders Robyn, Holly, and Marci enough for this incredible trip. All of us students are going to carry this journey with us forever, and the lessons we learned here have truly shaped our career trajectory. It is amazing to feel supported, valued, and cared-for as science students who want to explore what’s out there beyond the two most common paths, that is, medicine and academia. The Careers in Science Trek was a huge success, and I hope one that can continue for many years to come!

- Erica Vossen, Class of '20