Alumni Profiles Series: Annie Jeong
Annie Jeong received her Ph.D. degree in Genetics & Genomics from Duke University in 2017. Because of a strong interest and motivation to help students with their professional and career development, she started her career in higher education. Currently, she is the Assistant Director of Education and Diversity at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to that, she was the Assistant Director of Career Education at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A GRADUATE STUDENT AT DUKE.
While I was at Duke, I was lucky because my PI was very supportive and hands-off. That gave me a lot of opportunities to try different things and go to a lot of professional development events. A lot of my friends did not know about them, and sometimes they couldn’t go to them because some PIs are less open about students spending time outside of the lab.
HOW DID YOU FIGURE OUT YOUR CAREER INTERESTS WHILE IN GRADUATE SCHOOL?
When I first started graduate school, I wanted to become a professor in academia. However, a lot of that was because I did not understand what that role entailed. I liked doing hands-on science, but it seemed that a professor is removed from that. I am very detail-oriented, but all the successful PIs I knew were very good at thinking about the big picture and having vision. I struggled with that.
In my third year, I started looking at different options. I went to a few panels and other events the Career Center was putting on. After I talked to David McDonald, an alum of my Ph.D. program who worked at the Career Center at that time, I realized that I liked learning about different careers and professional development. I would be interested in a position like David’s. I knew I liked being in the university environment, but I didn’t want to take the traditional tenure-track route, so staying in higher ed in an administrative role would be better for me.
WHAT DOES YOUR EVERYDAY JOB ENTAIL?
At Johns Hopkins, I was a career coach and program manager. My main role was to develop and run a career community series that included careers such as science communications, science administration, and research. I would find speakers and presenters to lead hands-on workshops for the six communities and develop activities, in conjunction with the presenters, to help students to see what the job would look like. The other main part of my job was to meet with students one-on-one. I helped them find their career goals and apply for jobs by reviewing their résumés and cover letters and doing interview practice. That was my favorite part of that job.
Currently I’m the assistant director for education and diversity for an NSF-funded center at Penn. For this role, I’m doing a lot of program development. In less than a month after I took the job, I needed to run an undergraduate research program. I helped undergraduate students work in different labs and organized some social and career development events for them. Now, I’m working to develop other programs for high school students, and also to recruit people to increase the diversity in our center. Next month, I’m going to four different schools around the country and attend several conferences where I will have a booth. Coming into this position, I have a lot of freedom and I wouldn’t be as comfortable in doing that if I hadn’t worked at Johns Hopkins before and figured out how to propose and develop programs.
Initially, my career goal was to make it into the assistant dean role or a position at the director level where I can direct the professional development group. At my current position, our center is grant-funded. We have about eight years left for the grant, so the position will be gone after that. I always try to maintain the network I’m building because I know I’m not here forever.
HOW DO YOU STAY ENGAGED IN YOUR OWN PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT?
After I got the job at Hopkins, I took several certification courses, including a coaching certification. I also took executive classes in the business school and participated in professional development sessions at the conferences I attended.
My next goal is to learn more about higher ed as a business by taking business and education classes. Another thing I have yet to do, but I feel is very important, is budgeting. Learning how to manage a budget is a big issue in the university context.
CAN YOU REFLECT ON PARTICULAR EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES AND TRANSFERABLE SKILLS YOU LEARNED AT DUKE THAT PREPARED YOU FOR YOUR CAREER?
When I was at Duke, I participated in the Emerging Leaders Institute. It was really helpful for me to realize that I wanted to work on supporting students and helping them be better scientists instead of practicing as a scientist myself. Consciously I knew that a lot of students were doing postdocs as a default after graduating. One thing I want to help students do is to figure out what careers they want and avoid doing a three-to-five-year postdoc if they do not need to do it. That experience led me to my first job in career development after I graduated.
Mentoring skills, communication skills, and time management skills are necessary for my job. In our lab, I had the opportunity to mentor several undergraduate students and even high school students. Helping students succeed is my personal mission.
In graduate school, we get a lot of practice communicating because we have to write grants, write papers, and give presentations. If a student intentionally works on it and creates chances to interact with different audiences, you can gain those skills. Ph.D. students are also great at multitasking and time management as everyone has so many experiments to run.
WHAT DID YOUR JOB-HUNTING PROCESS LOOK LIKE?
For every job I applied to, I always reached out to the hiring manager. At first, I messaged them and sent my materials. After my interviews, I reached out to them for feedback, looking for suggestions on what I could do differently next time, or what experiences I could gain. Initiating that conversation would make sure that the hiring manager would have my information and they would remember me. In my last year at school, I applied to a position at Johns Hopkins, but I didn’t get it. The following year when they had the full-time position open, that hiring manager reached out to me and invited me to apply. That was how I heard about the position for my first job.
Reaching out to the hiring manager as a practice has served me very well. When I was in undergrad, I worked in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I wouldn’t have worked there if I hadn’t reached out to them beyond the online application process. They didn’t offer me the job I applied for, but they offered me something else. This is something I would recommend to everyone.
I started searching for my second job in the Philadelphia area about a year after I started my first job. This time I had a specific place I needed to work in, so I started conducting informational interviews with people in that area in November. I got two job interviews through doing informational interviews. For this position at Penn, I saw the posting and I emailed someone I had previously talked with, and they passed my resume to the hiring manager. Informational interviews are very helpful and have very low stakes.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR GRADUATE STUDENTS AT DUKE?
I would advise students to be open to different types of opportunities, and don’t rule anything out. When people talk about their path, they often say things like, “Oh I got lucky and then this happened.” It’s not just that they got lucky. They were open and they tried different things. When an opportunity came up, they took it. You need to keep open and try different things before you rule them out.
Hongyuan “Hazel” Zhang
Ph.D. student, Cell Biology
Hazel is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Cell Biology and Orthopaedic Surgery. She studies metabolism in bone development and cartilage tumors in the Alman Lab. She is interested in connecting with people across different industries.