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Felicia Burns

Felicia Burns
Majors: Chemistry & French
Year of Graduation: 2013
Graduate School:  Ph.D program – Organic Chemistry, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY

Please give a brief description of your graduate school program and work.
My work integrates both organic chemistry and biological studies. I focus on the design and synthesis of new molecules and study the biological responses they induce in bacterial cells. This work provides opportunity to discover lead compounds in drug development.

What path did you follow prior to attending graduate school?
Being a Chemistry major at CSB/SJU provided me a lot of the knowledge and experiences that were essential to pursuing a career and furthering my education in the sciences. After graduating from CSB/SJU, I worked for two years as a Quality Development Associate at ConAgra Foods. This experience allowed me to expand both my technical and business skills and reinforced my desire to attend graduate school.

What advice/suggestions would you have for students interested in pursuing a graduate school program in science?
You should definitely get to know exactly what research is being done at the institution you’re interested in. Read papers by the professors and don’t be afraid to contact them ahead of time if you have questions. Ideally, you would be interested in the work that multiple groups in your intended program are conducting. There’s always a lot of pressure for you to be the right fit for a program of study but make sure that the program is also the right fit for you. If you plan to dedicate yourself to your research, make sure that it’s something you feel passionate about.

What are some of your career options after graduate school? What skills are important in your field?
One question that often arises between professors and graduate students is, “Are you interested in education or industry?” That’s because graduate school in chemistry will prepare you for careers in both. Education is huge if you’re passionate about teaching your craft. However, contrary to popular belief, this involves a whole lot more than teaching but also conducting your own line of research and overseeing your own research lab. Career options also include an array of industrial positions in research, product development and technical consulting, just to name a few. It’s important to develop technical skills, strong teaching and/or leadership skills, and confidence and expertise in your line of study.

What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of graduate school/teaching & research assistantship?
During my graduate school career, I have worked as both a Teaching and Research Assistant. For me, the opportunity to teach others has always been a rewarding experience in and of itself. Finding a way to make knowledge clear and understandable to others can have a dramatic impact on their lives. Scientific research is also rewarding because you have the opportunity to make a real intellectual contribution to the world. Real progress in science is a collective work of all the knowledge and findings that we each contribute to the scientific community. After you begin reading tons of journals and get involved in your research, you really get to understand the impact we each can make.

Most challenging?
While coursework and qualifying exams can be a daunting part of graduate school, particularly early on in your graduate career, for me, it is the research that can be the most challenging part. Graduate research can really be a roller coaster of experiences. You have ups and downs, successes and what may seem like tons of failures at times. It definitely takes a lot of perseverance and mental toughness to push through some of the natural struggles of research but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how the experience molds you.

What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
During most of my time at CSB/SJU, I worked as a Teaching Assistant for the Biology Department. This was a priceless opportunity that undergrads aren’t always afforded at other universities. It definitely prepared me for my Graduate Teaching Assistantship and likely gave me a leg-up in the application process. In addition, the CSB/SJU community is flooded with kind-hearted people who were always an amazing resource both during my time at CSB/SJU and after graduation. The faculty in the Chemistry and Biology Departments were willing to help with applications and recommendations. Career Services was not only a resource during the process of job-seeking but they also got me in contact with other alumni in my field who offered guidance and shared their experiences. These experiences all shaped my path for this career.  

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(August 2017)