DNA, Derivatives, and Determining Your Career Path. Oh My!

Carolyn Margolin, PhD, joined the Amherst College family last December as the program director for Careers in Science and Technology at the Loeb Center. She helps students interested in non-medical STEM paths find internships and explore possible careers. Characteristic of this time, I spoke to her over Zoom to ask her how her role has changed since the move to remote learning.

To start, I asked her specifically what the director of Careers in Science and Technology does to help students. She emphasized that she helps students in all aspects of STEM and not just the first two letters, as her title may suggest. “I'm here to help students who are trying to figure out what steps to take along their path, whether it's helping them find internships, job hunting, or looking for volunteer opportunities that would complement or supplement what they've done in high school and in college so that they are prepared for whatever their next step might be, whether it's graduate school or going directly into the workforce. I help students with their resumes, personal statements, and any of their essays when it comes to graduate school or internship opportunities. [A lot of times students only know about the clinical path in STEM.] I am here to consult on [the many] opportunities out there that are outside the medical field. Even if you like the medical field but you don't want to be a clinician, you can go into biomedical research, or biopharmaceuticals, biotechnology, all sorts of things that are the wraparound of human health. But again, I also work with technology, engineering, mathematics, anything in STEM.”

Margolin also works on creating learning opportunities in STEM, such as organizing “Treks” to expose students to companies within a particular area. The Treks connect students with potential employers in fields from technology to biology She also works on connecting students with alumni in their particular field of interest. Students can ask about career options, the path to a particular career, and more. “One thing I haven't gotten to do much of yet but I hope to do in the future is STEM programming, like bringing alumni in physically or virtually to talk to students about the different career opportunities and career paths that are out there. And creating more of a STEM community. I know there are some groups that meet regularly and there's a really strong cohort within different majors, and I know parts of STEM have not had that yet, but I really hope to help those form within Amherst for the science and technology students.”

Most importantly for students now, Margolin emphasized that she and all Loeb Center staff are still available to help you find an internship or think about the right career path for you. Margolin used to have scheduled appointments available three times a week in two-hour blocks and drop-in hours at the Science Center. “All of the members of the Loeb Center still have their regular hours. Right now on Handshake you can sign up with me or any of the other advisors for our regular office hours. However, if those times don't work for you, shoot me an email. Usually I say if you give me three options, I can find one that works with my schedule too. I am not limiting students to the six hours that are in Handshake right now. Any student that wants to talk to me, I will find time for them. Absolutely reach out through Handshake or by email (cmargolin@amherst.edu). Absolutely I will make time, I am available. All members of our staff are. I don't want a student to think that because they are not on campus they cannot get help. Please, we want you to contact us. We are here at our desks, and we are ready to help.”

I asked her if she had any information on how the College's flexible grading option and doing virtual labs instead of in person labs would affect applications to medical school and graduate school. She did talk to a colleague at a Canadian university. "A lot of graduate schools and medical schools will understand an asterisk next to Spring 2020 on your transcript: we all know what happened. You may not have had a choice in taking a class Pass/Fail." However, because of the flexible grading option, she advises that students take a letter grade (if it is a C or above) over a pass on their transcript. Graduate schools and especially medical schools prefer a letter grade if you have the choice. “Continue working hard in your STEM classes, and if your grade is a C or above, take the letter grade if you can.” Medical schools in particular prefer to see a letter grade over a simple pass or fail.

Margolin also mentioned that she has been spending quite a bit of time looking for internships that were posted within the last week for students who may still need something to do this summer. Some existing internships may need to be adjusted to work remotely or be shortened or even canceled. “Everyone at the Loeb Center is keeping their ear to the ground so that we can make sure that when opportunities come up, we can let you know.” The majority of my time that I have been remote is looking for internship and job opportunities that are being opened now, because there are a lot of jobs that were posted two months ago that may not be still open. I am looking for things that were posted in the last week for students that are stressed out about internships and jobs not being posted—there are.” (If you are interested, contact Carolyn Margolin.)

Finally, I asked Margolin if she had any advice on what we could do to make the most of this experience and being stuck inside. In a nutshell: take the time to make long-term plans and take advantage of opportunities to learn a new skill that may be useful later.

“If you are a student at home, take some time to update your resume, to look into grad schools and companies that might be related to your interests. You can start making those longer-term plans. There are also a ton of virtual learning opportunities online beyond Amherst. Especially for technology students, this is a time to start looking at some of those other learning opportunities where personal growth can go a long way when it comes to grad school and the job market. Maybe take some time to learn a programming language that you don't normally work with, like SQL, or Ruby, or some of the other programming languages that might be utilized later. Or if you're not technology but you are in another field you might want to look at statistical software or other programs that you can learn through Coursera, or edX, or any of the other virtual classes. I know a lot of other colleges are offering virtual courses for free. That’s something you can add to your resume or CV later. For those tech students who do personal projects: make sure to put them on GitHub or contribute to other people's projects, anything that can get your skills both developed and seen will help later on.”

Two things were made reassuringly clear from my conversation with Carolyn Margolin: make an appointment and take advantage of some extra time. Even though most of us are not on campus, people in the Loeb Center are still ready and willing to help- sign up for an appointment with any of the career advisors through Handshake. Use the time you’re not taking a three hour lab to learn something new, revise (or create) your resume, or explore possible long-term career paths -- what else are you gonna do? Take another nap? Bake yet another batch of cookies? Email Dr. Margolin at cmargolin@amherst.edu to schedule an appointment, or schedule through Handshake for appointments Monday 2-4pm, Wednesday 10am-12pm, and Friday 1-3pm.


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