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Going All In

Going All In
Elaine Sedenberg, a fifth-year honors biochemistry major, talks about the twists and turns of her academic career.

Going All In from Texas Science on Vimeo. [Having trouble with Vimeo version? Watch it on YouTube.]

Elaine Sedenberg, a fifth-year honors biochemistry major, talks about the twists and turns of her academic career, and how she's gone from being a pre-med biology major to taking courses at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and aspiring to a career in science and technology policy.

Sedenberg will be the student speaker at this week's College of Natural Sciences Family Day event.

Transcript:

I began UT as a biology major, and when you first come to orientation, they talk to you about what it’s like to be a pre-med student, and how many students end up dropping, and it’s an enormous number. I sat in that room and swore that I would never drop pre-med. I was going to medical school. That’s what I wanted. I was sure of it.

So … I studied abroad.

I did a maymester in Vienna, Austria. It was an art history class. We’d act out the different paintings. After that I did a program at Oxford. We got to travel around England and Scotland.

I realized then that I didn’t want any sort of career that was going to constrain where I lived, and how long I had to stay in one place. I wanted a lot of flexibility, which isn’t really what you associate with beng a medical doctor.

I was still at that point thinking, well, maybe I’ll be a doctor, but I was kind of a little bit unsure.

So then I came back and I took organic chemistry with Dr. Sessler.

So I tranferred into his research lab.

I won an REU fellowship to go to france, and I spent three months in Strasbourg, France, working in one of his colleague’s lab working in porphyrin chemistry, making different molecules.

[There was] a shift away from pre-med.

I started really following what my research interests were, going to lectures on campus.

Research I didn’t feel like it was using all of my interests, and all of my skills. I liked it, and I liked working with scientists, but I didn’t feel like that was everything I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I found patent law through a molecular biology lecture on campus that I randomly showed up to. I got a job at the UT Office of Technology Commercialization. At the OTC, we decide if we’re going to patent a technology from a scientist, and then after it’s patented we try to obtain licenes with pharmaceutical companies, that sort of thing.

I started getting more and more interested in that, in what happens to technology when we try to move it from the lab bench into a drug, or make an invention out of it, a practical invention, not just an idea an inventor has.

At first I thought that that was a really great fit for me.

I was set to graduate on time, and struggling to decide if I did want to go to law school, if didn’t want to go to law school.

I was kind of starting to get interested in policy, but I didn’t have a lot of background in it. I went to meet with Dr Laude. I went in and we started talking about why I wanted to go to law school, and Dr. Laude finally looked at me and said, if you take an intellectual leap of faith and really just pursue this spark you have in policy, and take the 5th year, take that chance, you may find a career you didn’t know existed.

I left the room. My parents were on vacation, whale-watching. I calle dthem and left a message. I was like, “Hey, I just had a conversation with Dr. Laude. Change in plans again. I’m going to take a 5th year. I’m going to talk to some people at the LBJ school, see if I can pursue science policy. Call me back. Love you. Bye.”

I just went for it.

At the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, they have a new program for undergraduates called the Next Generation Fellows Program, where undergrads can start getting involved in policy research, which is a huge paradigm shift.

I liked my science classes. I really did, and it still plays a part in what I want to do, but I just never had that feeling of exhilaration when you’re reading something that you can’t get enough, where it’s so interesting you want to tell the whole world. I thought, “Oh, that’s cool,” but with science policy I read news articles that have to do with it and I get so outraged or excited or interested that I publish it on Facebook, I send it to all my friends. They think it’s pretty annoying.

One of my favorite quotes is: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” One of the scariest and coolest parts of college were all of those times when you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re going on blind faith that things are going to work out and then suddenly they do and you take a step back because things just kind of happen.

People ask me: What’s your five year plan? I had to muster up the courage to look them straight in the eye and say, “I have no idea.” It turned out that that has been one of the best things, just being comfortable with not knowing what’s coming next, and also having the freedom to pursue different options.
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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

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