Meet Dr. Shawn Nordell, Associate Director of Graduate Career Services

Submitted on November 14, 2021

(Written by Luke Wink-Moran, Photo credit: Dr. Shawn Nordell)

The Graduate Center is happy to welcome Dr. Shawn Nordell to our team as the new Associate Director of Graduate Career Services and Assistant Professor of Practice. Dr. Nordell has a bachelor’s degree in animal health science, a master’s in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Arizona, and a Ph.D. in biology from the University of New Mexico.

For the last three years, Dr. Nordell has worked as a career consultant in the Career Center at the University of Washington in St. Louis. There, she helped graduate students, post-docs, faculty, and departments with all stages of the job search and application process, assisting them in self-assessment and career exploration, networking, and translating their transferable skills.

“It’s just really fun to help grad students find what kinds of paths are out there,” said Dr. Nordell, “to find out the diversity of the things they can do and help them think about what it is that they really like doing, and what’s going to make them happy.”

Dr. Nordell grew up in Chicago, where she became a lifelong Cubs fan. She began her college career at Boston University, as a musical performance major. But she soon decided that musical performance wasn’t what she wanted to pursue. “I realized that it was something that I enjoyed doing outside of school,” Dr. Nordell recalled, “but that my academic interests lay elsewhere.”

She transferred to the University of Arizona, which she had visited while staying with her grandparents in Sun City. She changed her major to animal science and planned on going to vet school—until she took an oceanography course that introduced her to research and ecology. She attended the University of Arizona’s master’s program not long afterwards and adopted a Labrador retriever, Buck.

Buck accompanied Dr. Nordell to the University of New Mexico where she earned her Ph.D. and to some of the 12 different states in which Dr. Nordell lived before she moved to St. Louis.  Buck was one constant in Dr. Nordell’s life; another was the PAC 12 network, which Dr. Nordell tuned into wherever she went so she could cheer for the Wildcats.

As a career consultant in St. Louis, Dr. Nordell interacted with students, industry leaders, alumni associations, and other professionals in a diverse range of fields. Her varied experiences help her think like an employer and help students discover what they need to do to land a job in their desired field. She goes beyond just drafting cover letters and resumes and encourages students to think about how to translate the important skills they already have into the language of the industries they’re trying to enter.

“I always tell them, ‘Put yourself in their shoes.’” Dr. Nordell explained. “How can you communicate that you’re the perfect person for what they want? How can you indicate to employers—in their language—that you’re the right person for the job?”

Dr. Nordell has stayed close to her Tucson roots, often spending summers in Arizona (avoiding the Midwest humidity) and working on ecological projects with her husband. When she saw the posting for a career development position in the Graduate Center, “it was like my happy place became my even happier place.” Recently resettled in Tucson with her newest Labrador, Gabby, Dr. Nordell is excited to lend her expertise to the UA community. “I love the opportunity to come back and work with such an amazing and diverse population and be able to help the students.”

Her philosophy of career support begins with encouraging students’ reflection on what really makes them happy—what they enjoy doing and why—and then helping them achieve their goals by translating their skill into industry-specific language.

Graduate students interested in talking to Dr. Nordell about career development can make use of any of the following resources.


Resources Available:

1-on-1 consulting

To schedule a 1-on-1 consulting appointment, please visit (UA NetID Login Reqiured).

SPRINT program

The sprint program is a 30-day online course designed to help students find a career path, develop a professional persona, and draft interview materials for potential employers. The program is free. For further information, please email Dr. Nordell ( or Ivette Merced (