Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Robin Williamson

Name: Robin Williamson
Age:: 35
Occupation:: Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton
Education (UR and additional): B.S. in Biochemistry, University of Rochester, 1998; Ph.D. in Genetics, Harvard University, 2005
Current city/state of residence: Rockville, MD

Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

I had personal, educational, and economical reasons for deciding to attend UR. I lived just 12 miles from the school and was familiar with the campus because my dad was an alumnus who had frequently taken me with him to use the UR athletic facilities when I was growing up. This meant that I wouldn’t be too far from the family with whom I was very close. In addition, I intended to pursue a major that was related to biology, and UR had an excellent reputation for achievements in the biological sciences. Finally, as a Rochester resident, I received not only a merit-based scholarship from the school, but also an additional scholarship because I was a local student.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

Immediately after graduation, I attended graduate school at Harvard University. As a biochemistry major with a minor in chemistry, I had spent a great deal of my time at UR in a laboratory. During the summer before my Junior year, I started doing independent research in a bio-organic laboratory. This sparked my interest in basic research and led me to pursue a PhD in biomedical sciences. I specialized in genetics and received my PhD in the spring of 2005.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

Now I am an associate at the consultant firm Booz Allen Hamilton. After receiving my PhD in 2005, I spent six years as the Deputy Editor of the American Journal of Human Genetics. During that time, I developed a lot of connections throughout the genetics community and acquired many skills associated with project management and science publishing. When it came time to leave the journal, I was interested in a position where I would be involved in the development of scientific content while also gaining additional management experience. A position at a consultant firm is a great way to gain experience working on a variety of projects for different clients.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

During graduate school, my position as an editor at a scientific journal, and my current position at a consulting firm, I am constantly using my ability to think in an analytic manner. During the classes I took while pursuing my biochemistry major, I had acquired the tools and skills I needed to be able to digest information in a critical fashion and to use that information to achieve my goals.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

This is something I have struggled with because there is, of course, always more work to be done. Working in the consultant world has actually helped a great deal because we have to bill the client for the hours we work, and a work week of 40 hours is expected. Since starting this job, I have committed to working eight hours a day and making sure I have plans with family and friends that will force me to stick with that commitment. I am also an avid runner, so no matter how long I work, I set aside time each day to run and go to the gym. I’ve found that devoting this time to focus only on me is very important for my well-being.

What advice do you have for current students?

My advice would be to take the time to really think about what you enjoy doing. We are all very busy with schedules filled with activities that we can add to our resumes, but which of those are you really excited and passionate about? It takes time and energy to stop the forward momentum to consider what makes you happy. It has become the norm to be constantly involved in as many things as possible, and my advice would be to take the time to devote yourself to those goals and missions that really resonate within you.