This alumni blog was generously provided by Chloe Kirk (’19), who majored in Molecular Biology and Legal Studies at UW-Madison and is currently pursuing a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.
The question looms in every recent graduate’s mind: how can you set yourself up for success after school?
With all the excitement to complete our degrees, we often forget how many opportunities we have while we are in college. In addition to getting that piece of paper, we are provided world-class research internships, hundreds of academic advisors to help navigate any possible path, more study abroad experiences than almost any other university in the US, volunteer opportunities within the University and Dane County, and much, much more.
The best piece of advice I gained when I first came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison was from a leader at the STEM Immersion Bootcamp: say yes to more. Don’t just focus on the classes you need to graduate; say yes to all of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities available at this university. This is the time in life to try volunteering with Badgers With a Heart or working in a cancer biology lab. Say yes to starting that blog you’ve wanted to try and then using the writing resources on campus to hone your skills. Meet with advisors from all different schools and programs to learn more about the classes and career paths available to you. You don’t know what you love until you try it, and what better time to try everything than at a world-class institution where everything is available.
You may say this is all well and good, but I’ve lost so many opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Study abroad is a lot less common, as are in-person networking, conferences, and research opportunities. But this isn’t just you; it’s everywhere. The bar for what is to be expected for graduates has changed because opportunities have changed.
Instead of focusing on what you have lost, alter the narrative to look at all the new opportunities a pre-pandemic world would not have provided. We are in the virtual age, when what matters most is what you can find online. While in-person networking and conferences are less common, the rise of virtual classes and meetings has provided a platform to network across a much larger audience! Say yes to virtual opportunities and set up your virtual profile to market yourself in the virtual world. Make a LinkedIn account, clean up your Facebook and Instagram, make a website showcasing your skills. Talk to your advisors and the virtual network you are building, apply for those internships and scholarships you think you don’t have a chance for, and put yourself out there because you don’t know what you’ll get unless you try.
I would never have interned in Japan if I hadn’t spoken with half a dozen academic advisors, one of whom remembered my interest and months later followed up with me about the very internship posting I ended up doing. Applying on a whim to be a part of WISCIENCE led me to multiple jobs and volunteer opportunities doing science outreach and communication. Nervously starting my own science blog and Instagram created an entirely virtual network of scientists I now talk with daily and opened my eyes to career paths in science communication and policy. I said yes to applying for applications, sending cold emails, and trying new experiences. By embracing all these opportunities during college, I am doing exactly what I love now: pursuing a PhD in Biochemistry and participating in science outreach and communication.
Discover your passions now, in an environment designed to nurture all your curiosities, so you can do what you love when you graduate. Say yes to the opportunities around you, both in-person and virtual, and make the most of your time at UW-Madison.