Alumni in science give career insight

Caroline Fassett, Staff Writer

Alumni Ben Sirolly ’07, Noor White ’10, and John Tomtishen ’11 may have ended up in occupations in different fields of science, but they agree that they all shared similar journeys of hard work and persistence in finding success.

On Nov. 3, Sirolly, White, and Tomtishen discussed their respective career paths and offered advice to students, many of whom were undergraduate majors in the sciences, at the Career Development Center (CDC) Careers in Science Alumni Panel.

A physics and political science major, Sirolly obtained his law degree at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and is currently an associate at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP. There, he chiefly litigates patent disputes in the U.S. district courts and the Federal Court. Sirolly said that he entered his undergraduate studies at the University hoping to avoid science.

“But my sophomore year, I took a physics class, and I just fell in love,” Sirolly said.

White, a biology major, is a PhD. candidate who currently balances her work between the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and the Behavior, Ecology, Evolution and Systematics program at the University of Maryland. Her research focus for her PhD program includes genome-scale phylogenetics, avian systematics, and the evolution of night vision. She compared her experience to working in three labs at the University to the story of Goldilocks.

“One lab was too hot, the other too cold, but my senior year I worked in a lab in systematics, and that fit just right for me,” White said.

Tomtishen, a cell biology and biochemistry major, was searching for a job that offered new experiences every day and allowed him to be innovative. He believes he found that as a scientist at the Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, where he works within a research and development unit on T-cell therapy to treat acute and chronic leukemia.

“There are always negatives to every career path. The important thing is that the positives outweigh the negatives,” Tomtishen said.

While Tomtishen believes the most important skill he gained during his time at the University was the ability to think critically, White is most grateful for the writing abilities she developed. Sirolly credits the University’s professors to giving him skills to interact with others about the excitement to learn new things.

“Bucknell has teachers who are just incredible at what they do, and they have the time of day for you. I don’t think I ever found a door that wasn’t friendly and open,” Sirolly said.

When a student asked the alumni what experiences at the University were unexpectedly useful, White responded with an unconventional answer.

“Not to joke, but beer tasting. Biologists love beer. When I’m sitting down with some who are maybe much older than me, or more advanced than me career-wise, and I don’t know how to start a conversation, I always start with beer,” White said.

Tomtishen said the philosophies of teamwork and collaboration truly helped to start his career.

“For the pharmaceutical industry, you really need to work with others well,” Tomtishen said.

Sirolly said that multiple things he divulged in at the University became of use to him that he otherwise wouldn’t have expected to be, like electromagnetism and coding.

“It’s amazing how often these things come up [in cases]. Just keep an ear open to things that are interesting,” Sirolly said.

The three alumni attained their current jobs in various ways, and drew from their own experiences in offering the students’ guidance on how to move forward post-graduation.

“If you’re a top law student, you’ll do great [with finding a job]. If you get along with the people you interview with, that’s great too,” Sirolly said.

“Really present yourself. If you’ve done research, go into detail about that. If you don’t necessarily match the criteria of a certain job, don’t limit yourself and not apply for that position,” Tomtishen said.


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