Shanta Whitaker – Microbiology

Career Changer with a STEM Foundation


One thing I have learned is that there are no straight paths. Life has a way of taking you on a journey that you might not have expected. If you would have asked me ten years ago would I be in health policy, I would have laughed at you. I was completely set on a laboratory career. However, I have found a way to use my STEM PhD and my Public Health training in a unique way as a consultant. I think it is important to ultimately believe in yourself and your ability to succeed. Don't doubt your abilities. You deserve to be at the table with everyone else.

1.) What is your chosen STEM field?

Microbiology is my STEM field!

2.) Why did you choose this field?

I chose Microbiology because I was really fascinated by how microorganisms could cause such havoc on our bodies. I wanted to understand how bacteria, viruses and protozoan parasites affect us and how our immune system responds to them.

3.) What obstacles have you had to overcome in your career/college journey?

The main obstacle I have had to overcome in my college/graduate school/career journey is self-doubt. I think at each stage, I didn't trust my ability to succeed in an environment where I perceived others to be smarter than me. In college, I didn't feel that so much. I went to a Historically Black College where I was surrounded with people that looked like me. It was a small school, so I had alot of one on one time with college professors and graduated top of my department. My college provided me the confidence to apply to PhD programs, but didn't quite give me the confidence to succeed there. So when I entered Yale to start a PhD in Microbiology, I felt like a really small fish in a huge pond. There were tons of people way smarter than me and I really began to doubt myself. However, I slowly learned that it didn't matter if people where smarter than me, it mattered what I thought of myself. So I started to focus on doing the best I could and not to compare my brains to others. I ended up doing really well and completing my PhD in Microbiology when I was 27.

I completed a fellowship after my PhD and realized that I didn't want to continue being a bench scientist. So I completely left the bench and went back to school and got a Masters of Public Health. Currently, I am a health policy consultant working on a section of the Affordable Care Act.




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