December 2010

Going from Industry to Academia and Back Again

Sharel M. Figueredo shares a journey that took her from a job in industry to graduate school and then back to industry again. (Titled "Yes, I Can!" in print version.)

The Realization

Sharel M. Figueredo

Sharel M. Figueredo is a developmental scientist at Beckman Coulter Inc. in Brea, Calif. She has also worked at Ciphergen Biosystems Inc. and Aclara Biosciences Inc., both in California. Figueredo earned her doctoral degree in biological science from the University of California, Irvine and her master’s degree in chemistry from San Jose State University.

A high school chemistry class with a teacher who encouraged me and recognized my potential led me to pursue a college degree in science. I completed my bachelor’s degree in Mumbai, India and then worked at Kuwait University as a research assistant. I loved the three years that I spent there, investigating the effects of oil pollution from the Persian Gulf War on marine flora and fauna. The experience also made me realize that, to have a successful career in scientific research, I would need a higher degree. So, I enrolled in the masters program in chemistry at San Jose State University and spent the next two years doing research on chiral stationary phases using capillary electrochromatography.

The Turning Point

After graduating, I remained in the U.S. and got a job doing research in microfluidics. This was my first taste of working in industry. I spent the next seven years working in industry and loved the fast-paced nature of the research and the excitement of inventions and novel discoveries. I learned to work both independently and as part of a team. I learned to meet tight deadlines and to manage multiple projects. However, there were times when I felt that having a doctoral degree would allow me to rise higher in my career, and, as the saying goes, the sky would be the limit.

A New Decision

I applied and was accepted into the doctorate program for biological sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Going back to school was difficult. It involved sacrifices, long hours, multitasking and the support of my family. The hardest part was balancing my life: I was married and had two school-aged children. I wanted to be a great student, wife and mother.

But, having worked in industry, I also had the tools necessary for graduate school: persistence, endurance and a passionate drive for science. I spent four years and nine months in school, and I loved every minute of it. I gained friends along the way and earned the respect of my colleagues and adviser. My dissertation on the structural determinants of biological activity in mouse pro-alpha-defensins resulted in a few articles published in peer reviewed journals. My family is proud of me and I am truly thankful for their support.

The Payoff

Now that I am working as a scientist for a multinational company in Carlsbad, Calif., one of my ambitions in life has been fulfilled. Five years ago, I had a dream that I thought was impossible to achieve with a family. But, when that acceptance letter from UCI came, I decided to take a leap of faith. I am happy with my decision, and I am ready to meet the new demands in my career. I am sure there always will be challenges along the way, but, just as before, all I will need to do is take leaps of faith.

found= true1102