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News > Club News > WIB-Seattle News > WIB-Seattle Leadership Spotlight: Emily O'Connor

WIB-Seattle Leadership Spotlight: Emily O'Connor

WIB-Seattle Young Women In Bio Committee Vice Chair

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WIB-Seattle

Emily O'Connor
Process Transfer Manager at Parse Biosciences
WIB-Seattle Young Women In Bio Committee Co-Chair

 

Emily studied biology at Skidmore College, with a concentration in cellular and molecular genomics. After graduating, she soon moved to Seattle and became the very first employee at a startup, Parse Biosciences. To help grow her network beyond her small workplace, Emily joined WIB in 2021. She immediately found herself interested in volunteering for the YWIB Committee. “I’m the oldest of four kids, and I like working with a younger student population,” she said. “I had a lot of science extracurriculars in school, and I had a lot of people help me to get to where I am.” Over the years, Emily has worked with students of all levels, from elementary through high school. “I feel that it’s so impactful with younger demographics, which see a lot of attrition from the sciences,” she said. With high school students in particular, Emily has found plenty of opportunities to encourage young women. “I've found that our high school ambassadors are so passionate,” she said. “They want to mentor. They have it in them that they want to learn, and they want to give back."

Volunteering on the YWIB Committee has also given back to Emily. “YWIB specifically has helped me to be excited about science,” she said. “I definitely enjoy my job, but having fun with the role, like doing experiments with students, has been really good for me.” With that fun also comes the development of new skills. “I feel like being a WIB member has helped me to continue to think outside of my day to day,” Emily said. “I feel like by being in WIB, I've been forced—in a good way—to establish leadership skills, especially project management skills, which then help me in work or interpersonal relationships.”

Emily’s work as a process transfer manager means that she liaises between Parse’s Research and Development team and their manufacturing/operations team to launch new products and improve internal processes. “It’s the intersection of research and production/manufacturing,” she said. “I find it really interesting and fulfilling because I help launch all of our products. I’m able to see the cutting edge of single-cell RNA sequencing. We're seeing what people are trying to study, and then we're able to help them.”

Working at a startup hasn’t always been easy, though. Emily struggled with imposter syndrome because she was handling so many large decisions so early in her career. She also said she’s noticed the gender disparities that appear as one moves up the professional ladder. “There's a lot of pressure and challenges to conform to the status quo,” she said. “A lot of the workplace models come from academia, and so the systems that are in place just kind of copy from that book. It's being in a room of eight and being the only woman. It's hard to not have role models the higher up you go.” Although being the first employee at her company has given her exciting opportunities, in the beginning, Emily often doubted whether she was capable of taking on so much responsibility. She found solace, though, in connecting with others. “Reaching out to people and talking to other people was so helpful,” she said. “Talking with other people, and continuing to reassure myself that I was doing the job for a reason.” Emily’s advice for others who are in a similar situation as her is to ask questions and reach out for help. “In the beginning, I was afraid to ask questions, because I didn't want to seem like I didn't know what I was doing,” she said. “Now, when I see people just starting out, I'm always really impressed when they ask questions."

Learning to navigate the transition from school to a startup has also helped Emily adjust her mindset when it comes to success. “It was hard for me to switch from an academic mindset, which was so modular and grade-based,” she said. “There’s nothing in the real world to tell me that I moved on to the next step. Now, success has been feeling comfortable and confident in what I’ve done. I've had to switch away from a mindset where achievement equals success, to ease with what I’ve done.”

We couldn’t be more grateful to Emily for all the work she’s done with our YWIB Committee! Her passion and endless energy have helped to create a wonderful environment for our local students to learn more about all the different paths that they can take when they pursue careers in life sciences.

Submitted by Mariana Huben
 

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