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The Perks of Being Well-­Rounded: Alumna has one up on grad school

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There’s always a question lingering in the back of every college student’s mind. While we would like to enjoy the four years we have to spend here, there’s always the burning question: “What am I going to do after graduation?” The hard part is, for most, there is no concrete answer. But the good news is there are plenty of options at Penn State that will help you to decide. Being proactive both now and when she was an Eberly College of Science student has always been the driving force of Emily Kuiper’s success. Kuiper is a 2010 graduate who has since moved to graduate school at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I started doing research in Dr. Allen Phillip’s lab in spring of my freshman year and continued with it through senior year,” Kuiper said. “That gave me basic research skills.”

When parents, teachers, and advisers tell us we’re going to need plenty of experience to make ourselves stand out in the job pool, they’re absolutely right. With this in mind, Kuiper headed to the career fair during her junior year.

“You go to the career fair and hand out resumes,” Kuiper said. “But no one wants to talk to you because you have no industry experience.”

This frustration is not uncommon, but the Science Career and International Education office provides a wide array of options for every level of experience. Knowing this, Kuiper went home over spring break and talked to her parents about a co-op. They were supportive of her endeavor, and Kuiper returned to Penn State ready to submit applications and begin the interviewing process.

“Less than a week after submitting my resume [to Bristol-Myers Squibb], I got called for a phone interview,” Kuiper said. “I got an offer two days later and accepted.”

Bristol-Myers Squibb is a mid-sized, top-ranked pharmaceutical company. While Kuiper participated in the 10-week-long summer program in Hopewell, NJ, she was provided with housing and food and really enjoyed her experience.

“We developed biophysical methods on an instrument that can measure protein binding interactions,” Kuiper said. “I fell in love with the technique and definitely want to use it in my graduate studies. Emory just bought a new one of these instruments, so I’m pretty happy!”

Being able to tie in her co-op experience with her future was only one of the benefits of co-oping for Bristol-Myers Squibb. Kuiper also developed an ongoing relationship with her boss, with whom she still keeps in touch. A highlight of Kuiper’s experience was a presentation she had to deliver before the end of her summer.

“We had to give a presentation of our work in front of our group, colleagues, managers, and select executives of the company,” she said. “Not many people my age have biophysical experience. It was one of the most stressful things I’ll ever have to present, but it was a great experience.”

To sum up her time with Bristol-Myers Squibb, Kuiper said it made her a “hot commodity” for the next go around.

“I went back to Penn State for a semester and started applying to grad school and for another co-op,” she said. “It was a great feeling because companies now wanted me- they were emailing me within 24 hours of applying. It gave me a lot of confidence when I was applying to grad school because I knew I had a lot of experience.”

Another upside was that Kuiper was now able to be pickier about the co-op position she took because she had a number of desirable options laid out in front of her.

“I accepted a position with GlaxoSmithKline, the second biggest pharmaceutical company in the world,” Kuiper said. “This experience was much different than my first co-op, and it’s probably where I want to be in 30 years.”

While with GSK, Kuiper was stationed in the research and development department working with the Cancer Stem Cell Developmental Business Unit, currently a hot topic.

“My industry experience has set me apart from a lot of students in grad school,” she said.

While at Penn State, Kuiper used her tremendous experiences to share advice with others. Some of her involvement included Science LionPride and the Association for Women in Science.

“I was one of the people standing in front of a group of potential freshman giving them my spiel, which involved talking about my co-op experience,” she said. “I tried to be a mentor to younger women in science as well, urging them to think about participating in a co-op to build their social and professional networks, to make them better and more well-rounded students, and to develop very good time management skills.”

Kuiper is an exemplary model of what it takes to be successful. According to her, though, it’s important to begin with the basics.

“It all starts with getting good grades and learning how to manage your time,” she said. “Good study skills set the foundation for being successful in college and with other career goals.”

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