By Gabriella Reggiano

Upon earning their Ph.D., graduate students of the UConn Chemistry Department can pursue careers in fields such as government, academia, or industry. The transition to life after graduate school, however, can be daunting. In order to help students navigate this next period in their lives, the Graduate Student Advisory Committee organized the 2nd Annual Alumni Panel, which included five UConn alumni: Drs. Faith Corbo, Jun Nable, Gavin Richards, Junichi Ogikubo, and Jason McCarthy. Careers ranged from a marketing manager at a specialty chemical company to an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. The group answered questions about interviewing, the merits of industry versus academia, graduating in four years, and the job application timeline.

The panelists, many of whom are now involved in the hiring process, discussed what they tend to look for in resumes and cover letters. Dr. Jason McCarthy, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, emphasized alma maters, first author publications, and evidence of productivity and independence. Dr. Junichi Ogikubo, Manager of Radiochemistry Operations at Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, offered his perspective from industry. Dr. Ogikubo stressed the importance of applicants grabbing his attention early: “I get 20 resumes in one email, so a lot of times I’m clicking through several resumes at the same time. Usually, I look at half of your first page, and if that doesn’t work, then I move onto the next one.” Each panelist also spoke about tailoring a resume and cover letter for the job. Dr. McCarthy pointed out how simple it is to identify a generic cover letter. He recommends writing specific cover letters that say, “Here’s what I do, here’s what you do, and here’s how we can work together.”

While industrial careers were well represented within the panel, Dr. Faith Corbo provided a more business-oriented perspective. Dr. Corbo has always been interested in the various applications of chemistry in everyday life, even during her graduate work. For her, that ultimately resulted in another round of graduate school to earn her MBA. Dr. Corbo found her MBA to be a major asset for understanding and communicating with business people. “If you really want to get on the business side, it’s hard as a scientist. What you find is that...we’re just so stuck in the details, in the chemistry, that we can’t relate that to a sales person, to a customer. And so, being able to speak both languages, having an MBA, helps you see more of the big picture.”

Alumni can offer graduate students more than guidance and the opportunity to expand their network: they serve as a reminder of the opportunities and career paths that are available to students after graduation. Dr. Ogikubo emphasized trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Although he faced some challenges in his third and fourth year—an anecdote that resonated with many of the current graduate students in attendance—he is increasingly glad that he attained his Ph.D. and has seen more promotions and pay raises as a result. Many of the panelists echoed this sentiment, noting that without an advanced degree, it is difficult to progress up the corporate ladder.

Transitioning into the job market is no small task, and events like the alumni panel provide students with personal stories of success. Ph.D. candidate Shannon Poges, who attended the panel to learn more about life after graduate school, found the event to be very informative. “They had many different perspectives about each topic and I think there was something there for each student who attended…I liked hearing about people getting MBAs and progressing up the management chain as well as people easily moving positions if they were unhappy at a certain company…Overall everyone seemed happy where they were in life, and the event helped highlight the light at the end of the grad school tunnel!”

Below, we have included a Q&A with Drs. Faith Corbo, James McCarthy, and Jun Nable, who provided us with additional information and advice about their graduate studies. The Chemistry Department would like to thank all the panelists for dedicating their time to visit UConn and offer their guidance and expertise to our current students.

Faith Corbo

Dr. Faith Corbo, '07

Advisor: Dr. Michael Smith
Current Title:
Marketing Manager, King Industries

How do you feel UConn Chemistry prepared you for life after graduate school?

I learned to think independently and problem solve. I've also maintained contact with professors and classmates, which helps extend my professional network.

If you were in grad school now, what would you have done differently?

The only thing I would change now would be to not take any student loans. It's possible to survive on the stipend, although challenging. But graduating without the burden of paying back student loans is worth it.

What was the best piece of advice you received in grad school?

My adviser told me that if I worked hard for him, he'd work hard for me. I've kept that mentality throughout my career and never expect to accomplish anything without hard work.

What advice would you give to anyone currently in grad school?

Keep an open mind, network and make as many contacts as you can. It's very common to end up in a career that is different from where you started, so don't tie yourself to one type of work/research. Also, if you are looking to work in industry, never forget that one of your most marketable skills is your ability to problem solve. Earning a doctorate is not just about the specific projects that you worked on, but it's also about working efficiently in a team and learning how to solve problems. Those skills may be more important than your actual technical knowledge.

Jason McCarthy

Dr. Jason McCarthy, '03

Advisor: Dr. Christian Brückner
Current Title:
Assistant Professor of Radiology, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital

How do you feel UConn Chemistry prepared you for life after graduate school?

Although the research that I am currently focusing on is not related to the work that I had done at UConn, the knowledge that I acquired is the underpinnings of everything that I do. I am able to push boundaries in the development of agents for use in numerous diseases simply because my training has made the synthetic aspects of the research second nature.

If you were in grad school now, what would you have done differently?

Absolutely nothing. My labmates and I worked exceedingly hard and put in the hours required to hone our skills, making each of us successful in our chosen careers.

What was the best piece of advice you received in grad school?

There are two major pieces of advice that I received from Dr. Brückner during my tenure in the department: 1. Make sure that anything that you write tells a compelling story. This can be in a publication or grant proposal. Regardless of the purpose, catching and holding the readers’ attention will ultimately pay dividends. 2. Never make assumptions. In science, cold, hard facts are the difference between success and failure.

What advice would you give to anyone currently in grad school?

Develop yourself as a scientist and understand what you do and do not know. That unknown is what you are going to be seeking out the remainder of your career.

Jun Nable

Dr. Jun Nable, '05

Advisor: Dr. Steven Suib
Current Title:
Research Projects Manager, MacDermid-Enthone Electronics Solution

How do you feel UConn Chemistry prepared you for life after graduate school?

UConn has had a big impact on my life after graduate school. The technical training, education and skills I gained are, of course, invaluable. Also important are the fascinating people I met and worked with. I learned new perspectives by interacting with different people from different cultures. Lastly, my graduate school experience also helped me become self-reliant and independent. 

If you were in grad school now, what would you have done differently?

Looking back, I could have broadened my scope/field of research. I wish I could have expanded my choice of research areas and not limited myself to a specialized topic. 

What was the best piece of advice you received in grad school?

I was told having great communication skills is paramount. A lot of people (including myself) have often overlooked this. But now, I realize the importance of good communication skills (verbal and written) in the work place even more. 

What advice would you give to anyone currently in grad school?

There are a few pieces of advice I'd like to share with current graduate students:

  1. As mentioned above, having great communication skills (written and verbal) is very important. It's imperative that you can effectively and clearly convey your message in the work place (e.g. giving a report, connecting with colleagues or writing grants, etc.).
  2. Financial literacy is another piece of my advice. As a graduate student, we normally don't think about retirement or future plans. But in fact it is important to have a plan for our financial future. Educate yourselves on this so when you leave school and enter the workforce, you already have a plan.