Students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) ﬁelds are often in the enviable position of having numerous potential career paths following graduation. Sometimes, however, the networking and job selection process can seem a bit daunting when the possibilities are plentiful.
Jaclyn Brennan, who is studying for her doctoral degree in biomedical engineering, has decided to try to make the task a bit less daunting, not just for her but for her STEM peers, too. Last fall, she launched COMPASS, a professional networking organization for GW graduate students in STEM ﬁelds.
“COMPASS helps graduate students like me identify next steps after graduation, speciﬁcally through networking. The unique thing about the organization is that it spans all GW colleges that are STEM-related,” she explains. “COMPASS organizes a variety of professional and social events to help graduate students explore and prepare for their future careers. We host networking socials, skill-building workshops, and career talks by GW alumni or local professionals.”
Perhaps Jaclyn sees so many possibilities, because she already has pursued a number of them successfully. Prior to coming to GW for her doctoral studies, she spent a year in France as a Whitaker International Fellow and six months working for the biotechnology company MedImmune. Jaclyn used her fellowship as an opportunity to pursue research on cardiovascular cells at Ecole Polytechnique. At MedImmune she worked in a cell culture and fermentation lab, helping to scale up vaccine development. She credits both experiences with preparing her for her doctoral studies.
“The Whitaker Fellowship made me realize I was happiest working in an interdisciplinary ﬁeld with a diverse team of researchers,” she says. “And at MedImmune, I learned that in order to be at the forefront of innovation, I needed to pursue a PhD.”
Jaclyn decided to do her doctoral degree at GW because it is close to federal agencies and research centers such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and to many hospitals and medical centers. She also was drawn to the possibility of pursuing science policy here in the nation’s capital. “Washington, D.C. just seemed like the perfect hub for my PhD,” she concludes.
Now in her fourth year at GW, Jaclyn works as a graduate research assistant in Dr. Igor Eﬁmov’s cardiac electrophysiology lab, where she investigates how the pacemaker functions in the heart to help improve its functionality under failing conditions. Jaclyn is enthusiastic about her time in the lab and the possibilities it has created for her.
“It’s been absolutely phenomenal. I’ve loved my experience in [Dr. Eﬁmov’s] lab,” she exclaims. “He always has a lot of great ideas and gives us opportunities to pursue them. He also has so many international and interdisciplinary collaborations, so in my three years in his lab, I’ve had the opportunity to do research in Bordeaux, France for a summer, travel to a lab in Munich, Germany to teach other doctoral students our experimental techniques, and visit a start-up in California to learn about cardiac cell reprogramming, a technique that we are now implementing in our lab at GW.”