From Drosophila to kit design

Danielle Snowflack is teaching science in a creative way

Danielle Snowflack is the director of education at Edvotek.

Danielle Snowflack is a scientist by background, an artist at heart and a passionate science educator by profession. As part of her job as the director of education at Edvotek, a biotechnology education company, she designs scientific kits, protocols and programs and attends trade shows to help teachers communicate science in an effective and user-friendly way. In an interview with ASBMB Today’s science-writing intern Soma Chowdhury, Snowflack shared her experiences at Edvotek and her career path away from the laboratory bench. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What do you do at Edvotek?

I am the director of education. We try to translate cutting-edge science into a format that can be useful and easily brought into classrooms. A lot of what I do as the director of education is to look at what’s going on in science and figure out a way to bring it to the classroom. A big part of my job is traveling to education conferences where I present hands-on biotechnology workshops. This is an important opportunity because it helps our teachers get comfortable with the experiments. But I am also responsible for developing educational materials and YouTube videos and working on our official media presence. I am still in the lab doing some of the research myself. I have my hands in a lot of different pots.

What inspired you to take this job?

It’s kind of a long and crazy path. When I was an undergrad at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, I did a lot of tutoring, was involved as a learning assistant and ran educational training sessions. I really liked teaching. When I went to graduate school, I started teaching and getting involved with some K – 12 outreach activities, which furthered my desire to work in the classroom. So I did what everyone does, which is network. I was in the right place at the right time, because Edvotek happened to be looking for someone like me.

What skills did you acquire in graduate school that are useful in your current job?

My Ph.D. is in molecular biology from Princeton (University). I worked on post-transcriptional regulation of RNA during early Drosophila development. My work focused on the mechanisms used to keep the unlocalized nanos RNA from being translated during oogenesis and embryogenesis. But it’s not just using my Ph.D. knowledge from the laboratory. A lot of what you learn during your Ph.D. is also how to communicate clearly to other people, how to interpret information and figure out how to get it out there in a way that everyone can understand.

What new skills did you have to learn for the job?

A lot of what I’ve really learned here is customer service: how to work with people who are outside of your field and try to get them to have the best experience possible. The other set of skills I started picking up was with social media and trying to connect our customers in a different way.

Did you always want to get away from bench research?

I didn’t necessarily want to be 100 percent away from bench research. My job gives me a nice ability not only to have the teaching experience in terms of developing the materials but also in terms of traveling to education conferences and teaching people the techniques. I also go into the lab to develop some of the experiments myself.

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You have taken a very unusual path. Was it hard?

It was. One thing that I found when I was looking for jobs is that many jobs in science education want you to have a degree in science education or experience with K – 12 students as opposed to having any experience with science. I did go on some interviews where they said, “You have to have three to five years of teaching experience in a high-school classroom before we can consider you for this position.” The employer looks for keywords in your resume and cover letter or you don’t even get seen. It’s tricky. That’s why I think that if you are a scientist trying to get out of your traditional science careers, networking is extremely important.

Can you describe a typical day in the office?

This is a kind of job where there’s no typical day. But I’ll say a lot of my time is spent in developing our educational resources and protocols, writing blog posts and connecting with educators. I’ll fill in on technical calls, and I’m probably in the lab two or three times a week trying something out to see if I can get it to work and be reproducible.

What did you find most challenging when you joined Edvotek?

It’s the time management. I feel like when you are a graduate student, you have no concept of what a normal day should be. You get to the lab early, you leave late. Now I am really trying to manage that work–life balance. Sometimes it can be difficult.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to have a career similar to yours?

I wish I had identified that I wanted to be in this field earlier as a graduate student. I would have worked more with kids, done more outreach, perhaps taken some more education classes and learned more of the pedagogy behind the field. I do find that I am learning a lot of that on the fly. I think especially for people who don’t know whether they want to do bench research, the best thing to do is to try out some things if they have the opportunity as graduate students.

What do you do when you are not working?

I love to ride my bike and like to get out as much as possible. My husband and I like to do some traveling. I am very interested in art, and I try to take art classes when I can. Both my parents are very creative, and I actually was a studio art and natural sciences major as an undergraduate. It serves me very well at Edvotek, because one of my very proud accomplishments was to redesign our protocols, making them more illustrated and more visual so that we are describing our experiments not only in words but also in pictures.

What do you anticipate the next steps of your career will be?

I like being involved with science education and with the teachers. Sometimes I do wish I had more time to work with students on the front line. As a woman in science, I think it’s important to get girls comfortable and inspired by scientific fields. I have a lot of freedom to do exciting things at Edvotek – I don’t know that I would be willing to trade that freedom to be in the classroom right now. I hope I am still in education developing these amazing experiences – and hopefully with Edvotek.

Soma Chowdhury Soma Chowdhury is an intern at ASBMB Today. She also interns with NIH’s intramural research magazine NIH Catalyst.