Name: Sarah Boehm
Class Year: 2011
Title: Associate Director for Education and Outreach
Organization Name: Center for Nanoscale Science, Pennsylvania State University
1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?
I manage the educational and professional development portfolio for a large materials research grant that consists of roughly 20 faculty and 35 graduate students and postdocs.
2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?
With both the encouragement of Holy Cross faculty and the knowledge of career opportunities that a higher degree would afford me, I decided to pursue a doctorate degree in Chemistry. In graduate school, I attended the American Chemical Association’s Leadership Development Institute where I met a future colleague at BASF who introduced me to the company and their Leadership Development Program for new PhD scientists. This connection helped me to gain acceptance to the rigorous program that consisted of three 8-month rotations across the US in various roles. One of my rotations involved technology scouting and university collaboration development in Boston, where I learned about roles in academia for scientists outside of the lab. This experience ultimately reinforced the fact that I enjoy working in the academic setting and led me to seek out opportunities to utilize my skills beyond industry. Networking and relationship building led me from one position to the next, directing me to my current role where I find fulfillment mentoring students and inspiring the next generation of scientists.
3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?
Cheerleading, Chemistry research, Chemistry lab teaching assistant, Physics Workshop tutor, Physics grader
4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?
I was a chemistry major with a physics minor. As an undergraduate I was fairly certain that I wanted to work as a scientist and learned that obtaining a PhD would provide me with the career growth opportunities that I was interested in. I truly started to explore my options in graduate school where I learned about the varied roles PhD chemists play in industry, academia, policy, government, and beyond. Having a degree in chemistry expanded my options and allowed me to shift careers from industry to academia because I have the critical thinking, communication, and analytical skills necessary to be successful.
5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?
Holy Cross was a safe space for me to learn to ask for help. It’s not always comfortable and it takes confidence. In all my roles since graduating I have needed to gather resources and identify collaborators to build effective teams. I recognize that I need help in areas outside of my expertise and bring in people with varied and complementary skill sets to round out the team. Building confidence in my own abilities is also key to feeling comfortable acknowledging my limits and knowing when to ask for help.
6. What advice do you have for students on campus today?
There are three main components in any job, internship, or graduate research lab – your boss, your work/project, and your coworkers. Before committing to any new endeavor, assess how you feel about each component. Will you be supported by your boss? Will you get along well with your coworkers? Will you enjoy the work? I suggest that you should feel positively about at least two of the three to be happy and successful in that role.