Dr. Allison Campbell – Recap and Write-Up

(This is being posted on behalf of James Gaynor, second year graduate student in Munira Khalil’s group.)

Speaker: Dr Allison Campbell – Acting Associate Laboratory Director for Earth and Biological Sciences at  PNNL, President-Elect of the American Chemical Society

Thursday, February 25th, 4:00 PM, Bagley Hall 154

“Let me tell you what I would have liked to have known when I was younger,” began Dr Allison Campbell during the opening of the second annual Women in Chemical Sciences Lecture delivered by Allison on Thursday, February 25th, at the University of Washington’s Bagley Hall. In her lecture, entitled “Advice to my Younger Self: Tips and Lessons for Driving Your Career in Science,” Allison toured the audience through her childhood in Lake Oswego, OR., and her upbringing as a chemist while illustrating her evolution into her current position as Acting Associate Laboratory Director for Earth and Biological Sciences at PNNL, as well as her new role as the President-Elect of the American Chemical Society.

As the daughter of two medical professionals employed at the Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU), Allison recounted her childhood dinner-table discussions regularly consisting of technical topics. No stranger to the research setting was Allison, either, as she described her usual childhood daycare setting: a play-pen in her mother’s OHSU research lab. A medical student at the time, Allison’s mother allowed her to play with the animals housed in the lab – as long as they were returned to the correct cages to avoid an experimental mix-up, of course.

Given a familial lineage in the life sciences, it was perhaps natural for Allison to begin college with a focus in biology. This was her plan – until she realized while an undergraduate at Gettysburg College (PA.) that biology was not something in which she was terribly interested. Still in pursuit of her intended career as an anesthesiologist, Allison switched majors to chemistry – a subject about which she was more excited and one that would still prepare her well (if not better) for medical school. It was not until her upper division course work in physical chemistry where things really began to “click” for Allison. And, when she was persuaded to consider graduate school in chemistry at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo by a visiting professor to Gettysburg College, her former aspirations to be an anesthesiologist were replaced by her pursuit for a PhD in chemistry. A continued theme of Allison’s talk rang true by her own example: you may have a plan and sometimes it may not work out, but you must adapt and continue moving forward. An unforeseen opportunity to work in biological materials research at SUNY-Buffalo led Allison into her ideal field for doctoral research: the application of chemistry to biomedical materials. This was only the beginning of the research for which she has been well-recognized. She is credited with co-inventing a bio-inspired process to “grow” bio-inspired surfaces on artificial joint replacements to better their incorporation into the body and she is acclaimed for her work in understanding the role of proteins in biomineralization.

After having spent her undergraduate and graduate education on the east coast, a serendipitous offer to return back to the great Pacific Northwest was extended to Allison following a presentation of hers at a Materials Research Society meeting in Boston. And as for many natives to the Pacific Northwest, the offer to return was too good to refuse. Following her first postdoc at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the early 90s, the rest was history as she moved through the ranks as research scientist, to research and development manager, to eventually an associate laboratory director.

The first of two take-home messages that Allison discussed was the fact that you are your own brand. That is, only you can – and should! – build the reputation that you want for yourself, both technically and personally. Allison’s advice: define for yourself who you want to be and how you want to be perceived, then work to develop it and work equally as hard to protect it. “Your brand is something that takes a long time to build, but it can be lost in an instant,” Allison reiterated. Your core values will consist your brand, let these be your guide throughout your career. The final take-home message was that someone may give you a job, but only you can give yourself a career. More specifically, building a direction for yourself is what your career is all about; therefore, make sure the jobs you take on are in alignment with this direction. To underscore this with her own career, “A career in science is hard, but boy can it be rewarding; you can have an impact!” Allison emphasized. In a scientific career, one has the ability to really contribute to society; you can travel, see the world, meet many people, and from it there are many opportunities to explore!

Allison concluded her talk by discussing work-life balance. First and foremost is to prioritize your commitments, both professionally and personally. After defining your priorities, stick to them and defend them! For the balancing of a successful career and personal life, take a long term perspective; for example, the decision to work from home as little as possible may result in slightly slower progress at work, but also in a happier home life which is perhaps worthwhile in the long run. Finally, ask for help when necessary and communicate with those involved personally and professionally. After all, it’s only in your interest to inform others of your situation so that they can understand your perspective and respect your decisions given knowledge of your situation.

Overall, Allison’s lecture was very well received and her message was clear: plan well, engage others in your network, evolve your skills, work hard at your development, be ready to adapt to unforeseen challenges, and – above all – enjoy yourself, because when it all is said and done, the journey is well-worth it!

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  1. Pingback: 2017 WCS Lecture recap – Women in Chemical Sciences at UW

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