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Jonathan LoTempio 2014

Major: Biology specializing in Biochemistry
Company: National Genome Research Institute at NIH
Title: Scientific Program Analyst

Why did you choose this industry/profession?

In keeping with what I imagine most of these biographies will say, my life's path looks linear, but my decisions have been circuitous. I decided to study biochemistry at Rochester, in part, because of Professor Terry Platt and his guiding hand in and out of the classroom. Professor Bob Bambara and one of his research assistant professors, Lata Balakrishnan, hired me in their lab at the start of my Junior year and I stayed through my thesis defense at the end of college, with a brief stint at the lab of a collaborator in Buffalo during the summer between 2013 and 2014.

How did Rochester prepare you for this?

After commencement, I torpedoed a plan to work in a lab as a research assistant and spent the summer sailing, travelling, shadowing professionals in industries outside of my sphere of experience, and interviewing for jobs - in that order, to my parents' chagrin. I did this in part because of my experience as a president of Alpha Delta Phi and as a senator and class councilperson. Biomedical science was an intellectual passion of mine, but I wanted to take some time to explore some other skills that didn't get as much attention in the lab at the tech level. I was fortunate to interview in a number of sectors and had the good luck to be presented a choice by the end of summer: consultancy or government?

I chose government and the National Institutes of Health's National Human Genome Research Institute because it seemed to be the place where one could work in the envelope of science while learning much about management and policy. This decision worked quite well and I had the chance to contribute to the management of large programs including the Human Genome Project and the Human Microbiome Project, as well as the Obama White House's National Microbiome Initiative.

Three years and many lessons later, I've decided to pursue a PhD at the George Washington University in the fall where I plan to pursue genomics, microbiome science, and ancient DNA. While trite, I would advise reading widely and engaging with culture: read good books, enjoy music, and explore your local museums. Learning the history of the field you plan to join also helps you engage with the people who will hire you, as they've lived a large piece of it.

Do you have any advice or insights for students?

If you can, roll the dice on your first job after college. Professor Bambara and I had a lovely afternoon chat over pizza last Christmas and he said something to effect of:

"You can make safe choices in your career and you will see a measure of success, but you can never protect yourself from the unfortunate experiences of life. Take risks and make the good end as sharp as the bad."

I will confess that I was terrified bailing on a secure job after college. But it worked out very well, due largely to luck and partly preparedness, and it certainly changed the course of my life thus far.