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GSAS Alumni Spotlight: Erin Burke, Researcher, Modern Fertility

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1.    What is your current profession/job? What did you study at Yale? When did you graduate?


I currently run Research and Clinical Operations at Modern Fertility. We are a company offering an easy fertility test for women who are thinking about having kids in the future. Our goal is to democratize access to important fertility information. I studied biological anthropology at Yale and graduated in May 2017.



2.    What do you like most about your current role? What do you find most challenging and/ or rewarding?


It's really great to go into work everyday and be surrounded by coworkers who are all striving to accomplish the same goal. Being in academia can be very monastic at times (depending on your area of study). However, working for a start-up has definitely has its adjustment period. It's one thing to know that your day-to-day work life is going to change, and it's another to live that reality. The most rewarding aspect of my job has been the ability to actually make a difference in an individual's life through science. I have been teaching women what reproductive hormones mean and do and then offering them the tools to unlock that information themselves.



3.    How did your time at Yale shape your career trajectory? 


I was very fortunate to have an advisor, Richard Bribiescas, who was open to letting me explore career options outside academia. He was always willing to brainstorm nonacademic career opportunities. Also, I attended four "Where Do I Go From Yale?" career workshops at Yale, where I interacted with alumni who worked in government, museums, consulting firms, startups, prep schools, and biotech companies (to name a few). I would recommend that every grad student who is even slightly considering a nonacademic job attend one of these workshops (plus the food at the Graduate Club is great).


4.    What are the main skills that you acquired as a PhD student which help make you successful in your current career?


I found that teaching has most definitely been one of the most valuable skills I acquired while a PhD student. Part of my job involves presenting on the science behind reproduction and fertility to wide audiences of people. In fact, last week I presented at a large corporate event, at a small social event, and hosted a webinar. Having taught for five years at Yale, I had the opportunity to really polish my presentation skills, read a room, answer questions on the fly, and translate complicated science to a lay audience.

Additionally, being an anthropologist, I was in charge of every aspect of my dissertation project, from funding it (down to the pipette tips), to recruiting subjects, to traveling to collect samples, to running assays, to managing undergraduate workers. This type of project management has been integral to working at a start-up. In a start-up, you need to be game to take on any role and wear multiple hats.

 

5.    Did you acquire any professional experience related to your line of work while in graduate school (either through part-time work, volunteering, networking, or other forms of training)?


I was fortunate to secure an adjunct position at Southern Connecticut State University during those years when I did not have Yale funding. While being a part time professor and a full time student was a ton of work, and might not be for everyone, it was a really rewarding experience.  I also worked for the Yale Writing Center, the Center for Language Study and Yale College Reunions. Each of those jobs exposed me to a different side of the university and some of the other wonderful people who work at Yale.

 


6.    What advice would you offer PhDs who are interested in your line of work?


Take your time and really do your due diligence when researching careers outside of academia. I reached out to over 10 different people for informational interviews. And one of those turned into a job offer! I learned a lot about various industries and companies that I would never have learned otherwise. People love to talk about themselves so don't be shy in shooting off an email.