EEB and MB Graduate Student Organizations

Name: Cathy Lake

Job Title: Research Scientist

E-mail Address:

Company: Stowers Institute for Medical Research

Basic job description: My job is divided into two areas: managing of the lab and scientific research. I have my own independent research project that I manage, as well as manage day-to-day operations in the lab. This includes managing of databases for common materials, ordering and purchasing duties, as well as providing feedback to other researchers regarding their science. The job requires normal hours (for a science career). In addition, I do feel it is necessary for me to be available after work hours to answer questions or provide feedback in a timely manner. The job itself does not require travel, but travel to scientific meetings is encouraged.

What were your graduate studies in? What aspects of your graduate training do you feel have made you more successful in your position? I obtained an interdisciplinary PhD in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. My field of study was Molecular Virology. There are so many things I took away from my graduate training that have made me successful in my current position. First, was the training from a brilliant principle investigator (Dr. Lindsey Hutt-Fletcher) and an equally fantastic lab technician (Susan Turk) that had worked for Dr. Hutt-Fletcher for almost 20 years at the time. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but being trained by successful and powerful women gave me the confidence that I could also succeed in a male dominated field (graduating in 2000). Second, the course work at UMKC, where I obtained by PhD, was interdisciplinary based. We were exposed to studies involving prokaryotic biology, developmental biology, eukaryotic biology, biochemistry, protein chemistry and neurobiology. This allowed me to gain an understanding for many fields in science. Third, the techniques that I learned in my graduate work are the main reason for my current success. Even though I now work in a completely unrelated field from molecular virology, most of the techniques I learned in graduate school I used in my current position (genetics based studies). These include prokaryotic molecular techniques, protein production/purification and cell culture. I think the most important thing for picking a lab for your graduate studies is to make sure you are able to learn a number of techniques that can be applied to any field of study.

What was your career path after leaving graduate school? I received my PhD, I had a child and took off some time. I then did a brief post-doc with my graduate advisor. My advisor took a job in another state, and since I did not want to relocate I applied for jobs at other universities, institutes and industrial companies in the KC area. Stowers Institute had recently opened, and I interviewed with Dr. Scott Hawley. He was looking for someone who had experience in cell culture and offered me a job as a Research Specialist. This position was considered a more permanent position compared to a post-doc position. I was a Research Specialist for several years before becoming Lab Manager for Dr. Hawley. I maintained this position until taking my current position as Research Scientist. This position gives me more opportunities to supervise research projects in the lab and obtain external funding.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job? What are your favorite aspects of your job? The most challenging aspect of my job is maintaining a balance between my lab duties and my own scientific research project. There are times when lab responsibilities consume a considerable amount of my day, and my research gets put on the back burner. I am fortunate enough in this lab to have my own Research Technician that can step in and continue my work when I am busy doing other things.

My favorite aspects of my job are doing bench work and discussing science with co-workers. There is nothing better than a great scientific discussion!

Do you have any other useful advice for graduate students interested in your field that hasn't been covered yet? If I could go back and talk to my graduate student self, I would tell myself to really understand everything it is that you do at the bench, learn as many techniques as you can, learn how to read scientific papers, learn how to ask questions, learn how to write (manuscripts and grants), be involved with student activities, and go to meetings and network. If you do that, you will be successful in any number of career paths in the sciences.


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