Julie McClure has always been intrigued by science education and learning, and she brings this same enthusiasm to her current position as the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology science policy fellow.
“I wanted to combine things I like about teaching – like talking to people – and scale it up to communicating science policy,” she says.
McClure first pursued a joint bachelor’s degree in biology and secondary science teaching at Florida State University, where she graduated in 2004. This experience not only involved formal coursework in biology, she explains, but also gave her the opportunity to teach physical science and chemistry at a local high school.
In her words...
“Don’t let anyone tell you you’re only a real scientist if you work at the bench. Science is a way of thinking, and you can use those skills in any career.”
“If you receive (National Institutes of Health) funding, that means that any taxpayer can come up to you and ask why he should be paying for your research. If you can’t answer him in a way that he understands, it’s not that he’s dumb – it’s that you’re doing a poor job of explaining it to him.”
“Stop referring to careers outside of academia as ‘alternative.’ If only one out of 10 biology Ph.D.s becomes tenured faculty at an R1 university, then academia is the exception – not the rule.”
“Scientists care about accuracy and precision. That’s what makes them good at science. However, when you talk about science to a general audience, sometimes you have to sacrifice some of the precision. That’s OK. Just get over it.”
“When you’re in grad school, everyone around you already chose academia, so they’re not going to have the best advice on careers outside of academia. There are tons of great careers for science Ph.D.s outside of academia, but you’re going to have to do a lot more work to learn about them.”
“It’s way easier to get involved in science policy than you may imagine. Follow professional societies or scientific journals on Facebook and Twitter. Then you can get your science news right along with the latest gossip about the Kardashians.”
After receiving her degree, McClure deferred her entrance to graduate school at the University of Virginia by a year to obtain hands-on research experience. McClure was a postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the lab of Henry Levin at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, an arm of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
During this time, she studied the integrase enzyme in the yeast model system Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Not only did she acquire skills at the bench, but she also gained some off-bench experience as a member of the Postbac IRTA Committee.
After her time at the NIH, McClure went on to pursue her doctorate in cell biology at the University of Virginia, graduating from there in 2011. Her dissertation research focused on the yeast model system Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a means to study NAD+ biosynthesis.
While at UVA, McClure once again took opportunities to get involved in endeavors outside the lab, including teaching. She had leadership roles in groups such as the Women in Math and Science Group and the Graduate Biosciences Society.
McClure says she enjoyed the bench, but it was the experiences outside the lab that she enjoyed the most.
Her search for the right career fit led her to become the 2011 – 2012 ASBMB science policy fellow.
The fellowship is a relatively new program. The first fellow was selected in 2007, and there has been one fellow each year since then.
The program offers a recent Ph.D. recipient (within three years of completion) an opportunity to work in a position that blends science policy, congressional relations and governmental relations.
McClure appreciates that the program is relatively new.
“I’ve always been somebody who likes to get things off the ground … I enjoy building things,” she says. “There is a lot of room for building how [the program] continues to grow.”
McClure’s responsibilities as a fellow include “scanning news stories and articles in science policy-related news and trying to find what would be important to our members and bring those aspects” to the ASBMB community. She disseminates this information to members by print, via articles in ASBMB Today, and by social media, like her online Science Policy Blotter blog (http://asbmbpolicy.wordpress.com/) and her Twitter account (www.twitter.com/mcclurephd).
McClure’s fellowship ends later this year, and she’s not sure yet what is in store for her.
“Ideally, continue working for a science policy organization,” McClure says. She has a particular interest in science education policy. “I am interested in the early part of the research pipeline.”
Pumtiwitt C. McCarthy (email@example.com) is a research fellow in the NIH Pharmacology Research Associate Program of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.