Brian KirschnerContact Email:
Thinking about your post-college plans can be overwhelming; even within one program of study, there can be dozens of possible career paths. To help students navigate this sea of choices, three successful USP alumni shared their experiences and offered advice during a career panel on December 6, hosted by the alumni association and the career services department. Joseph M. Betz, PhD, P’88, recalled the long and unpredictable journey that led him to his current position at the National Institutes of Health as director of the analytical methods and reference materials program in the office of dietary supplements. “Things never go exactly the way you expect them to,” Dr. Betz professed. “I thought that I’d be out on a ship at sea directing a research program at this point in my career, but it’s completely different.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in biology from USP in 1976, Dr. Betz went to Long Island University for his Master’s degree in marine and environmental science. While his original interest was in field biology and zoology, he began studying venomous and poisonous sea life throughout his Master’s coursework. When he was ready to pursue his PhD, a mentor at Long Island University suggested he contact USP’s Ara DerMarderosian, PhD.
“My PhD project at USP was to isolate and characterize the compounds in a jellyfish that are responsible for antibiotic activity,” explained Dr. Betz. “I was making preparations to be an academic scientist in a marine drug discovery program.” However, due to an unexpected weather pattern in the Gulf of Mexico, the jellyfish he needed to perform his research were not available for an entire year. As an alternative, he helped Dr. DerMarderosian evaluate ginseng products. When nearing the end of his PhD program, Dr. Betz applied to several marine research centers but ultimately ended up at the FDA.
“It is important to be active in professional societies, even as a student, because the people that you meet often turn out to be career opportunities,” said Dr. Betz. “If I emphasize anything to you, it’s to make and keep your connections.” While at a chemistry conference in Atlantic City, he met some representatives from the FDA and was offered a two-year post-doctoral job shortly thereafter. He remained at the FDA for 10 years until moving on to his next role as a vice president at an herbal products trade association. “The importance of networking, meeting other people, and being active in your professional societies is vitally important. This is where you meet the people who are either looking to hire somebody, or know somebody else looking to hire.”
Susan Pytel, MPT’99, is a senior physical therapist for MARC Children’s Services and a consultant with the Spring Valley YMCA working on their developing special needs program. She specializes in physical therapy for babies ages birth through three. One of her current projects involves designing a playground for the YMCA specifically made for children with physical disabilities and challenges.
“Right when I had decided I wanted to do physical therapy, a notorious TIME magazine article came out hailing physical therapy as the ‘job of the future,’” Pytel recalled. “There were only five schools in the nation with a MPT program like USP’s, but by the time I graduated five years later, the market was flooded with physical therapists.” With an influx of recent PT graduates in the job market, Pytel and her classmates could not be as choosey about their first job. This lack of options led her to take a position that she probably would have never taken if she had her choice. Although it was disappointing at first, she admits that things actually worked out better because she was forced to try something different.
For the past seven years, Pytel has been working in early intervention visiting disabled children at their homes. “I get to be a part of the children’s lives more than I would be able to in a hospital setting,” she said. “I’m a part of their family and I like that close relationship I develop with the parents and child.”
The event’s third guest, Jean Surian, P’84, PhD’90, is the associate principal scientist and global drug delivery manager at AstraZeneca. She is responsible for accessing external drug delivery technologies for AstraZeneca research as well as the development and commercial applications for all types of pharmaceutical dosage forms. Her background in pharmacy helps her develop products from the perspective of the patient. “I’ve always had the patient focus,” said Dr. Surian. “One of the things I always ask when developing a new product is, ‘What’s that going to taste like?”
At the close of the seminar, the panelists offered advice on internships and stressed the importance of gaining work experience while in school. “Choose your internship very wisely,” advised Pytel. “It’s going to be your best opportunity to be a sponge and just soak everything up.”
“All the majors here at USP give you such a fundamental background and solid foundations that once you graduate you can go into practically any science-based field,” Dr. Betz told the students. “Let your horizons be as wide as you can imagine because you’ve got the background and the know-how.”
Dr. Surian said she enjoys coming back to USP to see the changing campus and speak with the students. “USP has such a family-oriented philosophy, and it still is that way even as it grows. It still comes down to the people at the school and it feels like a family. It feels like you’re coming home when you’re an alumnus coming back to the school.”