Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Hilary Leeds


leedsName: Hilary Leeds

Occupation: Program Analyst, National Institutes of Health

Education (UR and additional): BS (Biochemistry), University of Rochester, 2000; JD, Case Western Reserve; University of Chicago, Clinical Medical Ethics Fellowship

Current city/state of residence: Maryland

Community activities: Various volunteer projects, like working with people with disabilities, rescuing animals, etc.


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

I chose to attend the University of Rochester because it was the right fit for me.  The size of the school, variety of courses, and its reputation all played a role, as did the opportunity to attend concerts at Eastman.

When and how did you choose your major?

I grew up in a small town where the only high school biology course at the time was freshman biology.  I left high school wanting to learn more about it, so I decided to pursue biochemistry.  I had many courses to choose from (many graduate-level) to fulfill the major.  I studied not only biochemistry, but also immunology, nuclear cell biology, and molecular biology.  I chose my major because I wanted to learn about biology – at the time I did not know what career path I wanted to take.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I was involved in many activities.  With Hillel I participated in social activities and an after-school tutoring/mentoring program with local grade-schoolers.  I was also on the Outside Speakers Committee, which chose and hosted famous speakers.  As a part of that group, I met Michael Dukakis, James Earl Jones, and Ian Wilmut (who cloned Dolly the sheep), to name a few.  I also served as a peppy D’Lion my sophomore year and an RA my junior and senior years.

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

Right after graduation, I went to law school.  I’d known for some time that I was interested in bioethics and the intersection of science, law, ethics, and policy.  I sought out a mentor bioethicist at Strong and was advised about possible career paths.  Law school seemed a good fit for me, and I chose a law school with a robust bioethics and health law curriculum.

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

I work at the National Institutes of Health, in the policy office of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.  I feel very lucky that I found a job and a career path that combine my backgrounds in science, law, and bioethics.

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

To me, the most important thing my education at the U of R did for me was to teach me to think differently.  As I look back, it’s not so much about whether I remember the purpose of a particular enzyme or the specifics of a certain signaling pathway.  Rather, what my education did was give me the tools to understand how to analyze or approach a problem, scientific concept, or journal article.  This has been particularly useful in one of my tasks at work, which is to “translate” important scientific advances for the lay public. 

Where would you like to be in five years?

I would like to remain in the government, continuing to progress and participate in a variety of stimulating projects.

How are you still connected with the University?

I made many friends at the U of R and continue to see and talk to many on a regular basis.  I’ve even met alumni I didn’t know while in school at Washington, DC area alumni events and through mutual friends.  I always feel connected to U of R alumni.  I also attended my ten year reunion in 2010 and reconnected with some old friends.  I also make yearly congratulatory calls to admitted students.

What advice do you have for current students?

My advice to current students would be to take this time to cultivate lifelong friendships, try to study something because it interests you and not because it is a means to an end, stay connected with the University after graduation, and explore the great things to do and see in Rochester.