Emily Boice, PhD
Communications and Program Director, Mind Science Foundation (www.mindscience.org)
Describe what you do on a day-to-day basis.
It is never the same thing; it changes every single day. Our organization’s mission is to promote the exploration of the human mind, and we do that by hosting events like our Distinguished Speaker Series, various workshops, and also with a small granting program. We make grants to early career scientists working in the consciousness/neuroscience field to help them achieve results necessary for a bigger NIH funded grant. So everyday is different – some days it’s interacting with patrons and our scientists/speakers at one of our events, some days is coordinating vendors and communications for workshops, others its coordinating outreach events with our undergraduate volunteers for area elementary schools, some days is following up with thank yous and appeals from our fundraising events, and on my favorite days, I get to read/watch/hear about the latest cutting edge research in the field (either first hand from the scientists or on the web) and figure out fun ways to communicate it. But daily I must be able to speak the different languages to nonscientists young and old, scientists early and later in their careers, media outlets, in classroom settings, etc. I constantly spend time remolding my elevator pitches.
How did you find your first job out of academia?
I actually got my bachelors in Biomed Engineering, studied for my PhD in a Microbiology & Immunology department working on a variety of pathogens before settling in to work on protein biochemistry approach to examine an enzyme that can react havoc in patients. I knew at this point my love of science was vast and limitless. So when I looked for a postdoc position, I found a chemistry lab that was starting a biology branch. After about 2 years, I started looking for jobs outside academia. I had an internship (while a postdoc) in the university’s Tech Transfer office and loved the commercialization aspect of the science. I actually got to prelim patent my own project and explore the possibilities of being able to take it to market. Not quite ready to leave the research, I wanted to see what the science was like on the other side of bench and went to work for a large biopharm company in San Francisco. A couple of months in, I realized the politics in industry were for me very similar to the politics in academia and decided to see what else there was in the world. I recognized that passion was all science and figuring out how something worked and then telling everyone about it, which lead me to my current job.
What is your favorite part of your current job?
I was always trying to get different people to talk to each other about science before. When I worked in a chemistry lab, I was trying to get the chemists to talk to the biologists. When I worked in industry, I was trying to get the scientists to talk to the actual on the floor producers of the drugs. I constantly worked as a translator among different groups trying to help them hear what the other side was thinking. In this current job, I get to break down cutting edge research into its fundamental pieces, both to ask the scientists questions and to present it to different audiences. When you have the ability to do this well, new ideas start coming out, for sources you would never expect!
What are the unique challenges of this line of work?
The people aspect. All my career, the day to day was the struggles at the bench. If I vary this one tiny factor, can I change my experimental outcomes? Now it’s mainly dealing with people who are a lot more unpredictable. And as this is a non-profit foundation focused on brain research, the personalities are varied and the psychological spirit is huge and intriguing. I always want to know why. Why someone thinks this is the best route? Why this decision happened on this day? Mainly in an effort to be able to better predict the outcome next time. And you won’t get a lot of answers to those questions in a field like this.
Tell us about your academic background.
In undergrad, I worked on projects that tried to find out what happened when mice didn’t get full sleep cycles, in an effort to understand the human sleep cycles better. In grad school, I worked on finding the 3D structure of an enzyme. This enzyme was secreted from its host cell in a conformation that was not its final form. My job was trying to understand the protein folding aspect of this enzyme and how the folding played a role in its final activation stage. In my post-doc, I worked on a protein that was activated by light. Once this protein was turned on, it would release its contents to the environment. If we could localize this protein to an area in the body that had cancerous cells, we could use the contents to attack the cancer cells. This could lead to targeted treatment approaches that would save the normal cells better than chemo, radiation or surgery techniques. In the industry job, I worked on the large scale drug production of antibodies to treat rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer, and asthma. Here, our foundation stays on the leading edge of neuroscience with grants this year to further the understanding of memory processing during sleep and the processing of emotions. And we are working towards a conference next year to examine the latest and greatest new technologies and how they impact the way we are humans and interact with each other and our environment.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?
Transfer your skills that you do as part of hobbies and fun into how you could do that on the job market. Like planning your hiking club’s trips could be event planning skills, time management and long term goal setting. It helps you look like a well rounded package and adaptable. I got my grad school position by talking about weird experiences as an RA in undergrad, my post-doc position with talking about founding a women in science club in grad school, my industry job through a recruiter and then with dazzling the hiring manager with my adaptability and perseverance. This current job (of 11 months) was through networking, as will the next. And join a professional society and volunteer to be on a committee.