PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Nicole Marie Robles Matos (Hosted by The Franklin Institute)

In the spring of 2022, 34 PhD students from a range of academic disciplines at Penn participated virtually in Career Services’ PhD Career Exploration Fellowship (CEF) program, where they were matched with a host organization to learn about different careers beyond the professoriate. Nicole Marie Robles Matos, a PhD candidate in Pharmacology, was placed as a Fellow with the Franklin Institute. Read about Nicole’s experience in the CEF below!

Nicole Robles Matos HeadshotDescribe your experience working with your host

During my Career Exploration Fellowship (CEF), I had the honor of working with Dr. Jayatri Das, chief Bioscientist at The Franklin Institute (TFI). Since day one, Dr. Das was exceptionally welcoming and approachable. Initially, we discussed my interests in inclusive science communication and community engagement in environmental health sciences. Thus, Dr. Das gave me the opportunity to develop a project planning a series of social media content to engage The Franklin Institute’s audience in commemorating 2022 Earth Day. The goal of this project was to use TFI’s social media platforms to increase awareness, accessibility, and inclusivity of local community action about environmental topics relevant to people’s lives. Dr. Das introduced me to Katie Ozeck, TFI’s social marketing and community manager, who encouraged me to explore and learn the strategies and challenges of communicating science on social media. Both of them enthusiastically supported the inclusion of Spanish content to engage Spanish-speaking communities in Philadelphia. Dr. Das also introduced me to the Science & Education (S&E) team and allowed me to join the bi-weekly meetings in person. I was fortunate to meet a diverse group of professionals in the informal science education field and to learn about curriculum development and how museum exhibitions and operations work. In addition, Dr. Das invited me to join meetings with the National Nurse-Led Care Consortium (NNCC) where they collaborated in a vaccine project to train school nurses and develop strategies and materials about COVID-19 and vaccines.

What did you learn from this opportunity (about yourself, about career fields, the job search, etc.)

This was an incredible learning experience. I was able to connect with community leaders and scientists from diverse backgrounds and fields to discuss strategies on science communication and citizen science. This collaborative environment enabled us to foster the “everyone can take an impactful action in our community” message in the audience. I explored the challenging strategies of communicating science on social media. I learned how to use social media to stimulate a meaningful dialogue for mutual learning between scientists, community leaders, and the public. This project made me proud of myself for using my voice and presence to increase accessibility and inclusivity in communicating relevant topics to society (i.e. climate change).  The participation on this project inspired me to keep using my scientific knowledge to empower communities to evaluate new scientific discoveries and technologies. My research focuses on environmental health and this fellowship inspired me to advocate for culturally-appropriate messages about the risks of environmental exposures to human health. This opportunity allowed me to learn and grow outside of my comfort zone and to explore the variety of science communication career fields. This experience gave me the confidence to search and apply for jobs outside of Academia and to understand how my PhD training skills are transferable to other careers.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

At the beginning of my graduate journey, I started volunteering for outreach events with community and student organizations. These rewarding experiences made me realize that I can use my scientific knowledge to empower communities, educate the public about science, and inspire underrepresented kids to pursue STEM careers and higher education. I decided to explore other career fields where I can use my graduate training skills to advocate for accessible education, science communication, and health equity. CEF was the perfect opportunity to create a network with scientists and professionals in other career fields. It was incredibly helpful to meet and connect with scientists with similar journeys and how they  transferred their PhD skills to other job titles. My CEF experience allowed me to discover that I can thrive in diverse environments working not only with scientists but with other professionals and community leaders. Finally, CEF provided me with the tools to prepare my LinkedIn profile and resume for the job search.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

Everything about the CEF experience was remarkably valuable. However, I would say that the most valuable part of the CEF experience for me was the networking. I am extremely grateful to the Penn Career Services, TFI S&E team, and Dr. Das for connecting me with other professionals in various fields. I have learned so much about their career journeys and been inspired to explore their career fields. Additionally, I connected with incredible peers within the 2022 CEF cohort  and I learned from their experiences and their journeys navigating careers outside of academic bench science. The opportunity to connect and collaborate with a diverse community gave me the confidence to search for jobs that I feel passionate about.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

To explore careers outside of the traditional academic route, re-evaluate your career goals, gain confidence for job search, and network with professionals in other career fields.

By Jacob Myers
Jacob Myers 2021-2022 PhD Professional Development Fellow, Career Exploration Fellowship Program