Success in Science

Like many students at Pacific University, Sarah Mader ’01 dreamed of attending medical school.

When she changed her mind after graduation, though, she discovered she already had much of what she needed to begin a successful career in healthcare research.

Mader and other recent alumni returned to Forest Grove on Tuesday, Nov. 12, to share their experiences in science — in the workplace and in graduate school — since graduation, and to see what other budding researchers are working on at the Pacific University Undergraduate Research Conference.

In its sixth year, the conference is an opportunity for current undergraduates to present some of their work more than a year before their senior projects, for prospective students to learn about Pacific’s undergraduate research opportunities and science programs, and for alumni to share their experiences since leaving Pacific.

Mader, for example, is a senior research assistant at Oregon Health Sciences University. She started her career in addiction research and has since changed her focus to the effects of stroke on cell interactions. Working in a biomedical lab, she conducts experiments, trains graduate students, is published alongside principal investigators, and has also presented her own papers and posters on some of what she’s discovered.

“I use everything I learned in college,” she told the 50-some guests at the panel discussion. She credits Pacific not only for providing technical knowledge (“I’ve trained people in the lab — this is a biomedical lab — who didn’t know how to use pipets!”) but also for helping her develop networking and speaking skills.

And, like the other panelists, she said her close relationship with professors at Pacific was instrumental in her success.

“I got my first job and my second job through connections with professors,” said Colin Kambak ’06, a biology major who now works as an environmental technician for the City of Portland. “I got this job through someone at one of those jobs. It just cascaded.”

Kambak said he started out with hopes of becoming a wildlife researcher and dreaming, idealistically, of living in Costa Rica and counting frogs.

“The reality is, I think you have to pay to do that,” he joked.

He had to adjust his plans and ultimately weave in skills outside of his major — skills like analysis and research that he also learned at Pacific.

“I get to still dabble in wildlife with the fish and macro-invertebrates,” he said, “but I also used other skills to enhance my personal resume.”

He advised students today to bring a full tool bag of skills to their job searches and to start early — well before graduation — in networking and informational interviews.

Kambak and Mader both opted against graduate school and say they are happy with the choice, but other alumni panelists said that more education was the right choice for them — and that Pacific prepared them for the journey.

Caedy Young ’12 earned her undergraduate degree in psychology at Pacific University after graduating from high school at 16. She said she wasn’t ready to leave school and felt the urge to continue learning more. Today, she’s a doctoral student in Pacific’s clinical psychology PhD program hoping to work with elderly populations.

“Our curriculum seems more rigorous than some other universities,” she said. “It’s helped me to transition to graduate school and feel like I’m treading water instead of drowning.”

Likewise, Ryan Matsuda ’10 found success in the graduate school route. A chemistry major with an emphasis in biology, Matsuda is a doctoral candidate and research assistant in the analytical chemistry PhD program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“My professors prepared me really well … to be a critical researcher in the lab, and they prepared me to be able to talk in front of people,” he said. “Pacific offered a lot of opportunities to be a better researcher and a better person.”

Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013