January 2013

Jennifer Swann

Photo of Jennifer Swann

Tell us about your current career position.
I am a professor in the department of biological sciences at Lehigh University (in Bethlehem, Pa.) As such, I teach at both the undergraduate and graduate level and conduct federally funded research. I also serve as an ad hoc reviewer for grant proposals and research papers and as a committee member for graduate doctoral candidates. I do a great deal of service both within and outside of my department as co-chair, board and committee member. And I mentor!

What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
Just keep going! Never be afraid to take a chance and try something new! If a door opens, walk through it – you can always come back. Do your best, and don’t be afraid to fail. Failure opens lots of possibilities and does a wonderful service by defining our strengths and weaknesses.

How did you first become interested in science?
When I was little, I was fascinated with watching living things move and interact. I think that the brain and its ability to regulate behavior is one of our greatest mysteries. I began college as a premed major and did not learn about research until my senior year, when I was introduced to it by a wonderful professor on sabbatical at Penn State. He taught a class that allowed us to design our own experiments, set them up and collect the data. Once I got started, I was hooked! I still can’t believe that one can do this for a living!

Were there times when you failed at something you felt was critical to your path? If so, how did you regroup and get back on track?
I continually fail. It’s probably because I am always trying something new! What else can you do when you fall but get back up? I usually inspect the damage and try to figure out what I did wrong and then research my situation like mad. What do others do? How do they avoid these mistakes, and what can I do in the future? I ask for help from friends, colleagues, coworkers, the Internet and anything or anyone that can give me advice. I always learn something. Then I get back in the game.

What advice would you give to young persons from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours?
Do what you love – not what you think will make money. Doing what you love will take you places you have never dreamed of. And if you like what you do, you will work hard at it. Hard work is what makes money – nothing else.

What are your hobbies?
Uh oh. Reading? Movies? Science fiction? And I drum.

What was the last book you read?
“Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules” by David Sedris. It’s a wonderful collection of short stories. I’m only about one-third of the way through.

Do you have any heroes, heroines or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you?
Most of the women I meet and work with are incredibly inspiring. Many are juggling stressful situations at home while serving as important leaders in the workplace. I do not know how they do it, and I watch them closely to see what I can learn. Not to discredit men, but I do think women are a lot stronger in some regards.

What is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day?
That’s easy: I love it! Science shapes my life. It is the lens through which I see the world. My job is to learn something new every day. How can you beat that?

Photo of Weiyi ZhaoWeiyi Zhao (wzhao@asbmb.org) is the ASBMB manager of education and professional development.

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