Spectrum: Autism Research News
Building institutions from the ground up
I’ve always loved science. When I was a kid, I had a fascination with nature and outer space. When I was a bit older, I always picked green when we played Trivial Pursuit. It was a no-brainer that I would pursue a Ph.D. at some point, and my love for neuroscience, which I was exposed to in college, was my pursuit. I then entered a lab doing pre-doctoral work on spinal cord injury at Georgetown University, before going on to be a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University.
Turned out, despite success getting grants and publishing papers, my love of studying science did not translate into a love for being an actual bench scientist: The nature of the solitary hours and independent study didn’t align with my personality. So, with no mentors and no acquaintance with any notion of an alternative career, I left the bench 15 years ago, feeling insecure and worried.
In the lab, I had most enjoyed communicating about my projects — writing, making posters, giving talks. I had written a bit for our university publication and had some experience freelancing for industry. So I tried my hand at scientific publishing and applied for an internship at Nature Medicine. That experience took me from being an inch wide and a mile deep in a discreet scientific area (tiny synapses) to a mile wide and an inch deep across biomedicine. I was enamored with the big picture and the community of scientists I had the privilege to work with. With this network, professional opportunities started presenting themselves, and I saw my Ph.D. colleagues moving into impressive roles at foundations, in government and at universities. Finally, I could envision a path ahead.
I never imagined myself in industry or the for-profit sector, and staying true to myself, my next jobs were in the nonprofit space. I started as a manager at The New York Academy of Sciences, where I got intense experience with personnel management, finances, communications, program development and strategy. I was promoted three times in five years and eventually found myself as vice president and scientific director. During my stint there, I also had my three children.
The opportunity of a lifetime came in 2011 when NYU Langone Health got an extraordinary philanthropic gift to build a neuroscience institute. This was a chance to go back to my roots in neuroscience and build an institute. I was hired as executive director and spent two years creating the strategic, financial and operational plans to bring it to fruition and manage the day-to-day business. It was a dream job.
I am now an assistant vice president overseeing the business and administration side of all of our clinical departments, basic science departments and institutes. I also hold a faculty appointment in our neuroscience department. (I call this my ‘back door’ to a faculty appointment since I walked away from the lab a long time ago.) I love that I have always contributed to science and supported discovery and research, albeit from a different angle. I know that being a scientist gave me a critical skill set and credibility. My path has been twisty and unexpected, but I would not change a thing.