Alumni Career Panel: Identify Your Passion and Leverage Skills and Connections

May 6, 2024
A diverse set of men and women looking at signs and arrows pointing different directions to decide what way to go.

Recently, the Graduate Center’s Office of Career Services hosted two fabulous alumni, Dr. Stephanie Gage and Dr. Ben DuMontier, as part of our Diverse Career Paths Series.  Our guests are perfect examples of the diverse and interesting career paths UA alumni are following.  Dr. Gage received her PhD in Neuroscience and studied how nitric oxide affected learning and memory in moths. Today, she is Associate Program Director at the National Science Foundation (NSF) where she leads the Foundations of Emerging Technologies cluster in the Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering directorate. Dr. DuMontier received his PhD in Latin American and Transnational History. He examined oral histories to determine how changing international political reactions and war affected Japanese immigrants in Peru from 1936-1963. Today, he is a subject matter expert for SNA International, which is a global leader in forensics, biometrics, and identity intelligence. As part of the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, he researches and creates case narratives in support of locating and identifying service members who are missing in action from historical theaters of war. If you missed the Career Panel, you can watch the video here by logging in with your UA NetID.

Both Dr. Gage and Dr. DuMontier talked about their transition from graduate school to their current roles.  Dr. Gage discussed the challenges of finding funding as she graduated during a federal government sequestration period when resources were scarce. She held many different jobs to support herself before landing her first postdoc at the United States Department of Agriculture. The experience provided an opportunity to use her research skills on real world problems; for example, she studied honeybees in order to help beekeepers better manage their colonies. During this time, she realized she was drawn to the “policy space.” As a result, she embarked on an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellowship, which she thoroughly enjoyed. Her current work involves helping researchers navigate the NSF funding process, bring together communities in order to push new frontiers, and build consensus about what that frontier should look like.

Dr. DuMontier has been involved in history since his undergraduate days and had enjoyed teaching throughout graduate school. He began his postgraduate work teaching in charter schools but found that this was not his path. Like Dr. Gage, he felt that his passion was in utilizing his research skills to solve real world problems. One of his committee members who worked on public history and who knew of his interests alerted him to a postdoc in Hawaii. The position was with his current employer, SNA International. The forensics company brings together bone and forensic anthropologists who search evidence of service people missing in action from historical theatres of war. Dr. DuMontier describes his research skills as analogous to detective work: he collects all the available evidence and then writes analytical case narratives of service people missing in action.  The project both engages his research interest and provides families great closure.

What graduate skills are most important in these roles? Both alumni emphasized the importance of having terrific writing skills and being able to communicate clearly to different audiences. They encouraged graduate students to improve their grant writing skills by volunteering as reviewers of GPSC grants; the experience teaches one not only how to construct a successful proposal but also how to write constructive feedback. 

Dr. Gage and Dr. DuMontier noted the importance of exploring the world outside one’s research, of making professional connections with people beyond your department, and of learning about diverse careers and career opportunities. They reminded the Career Panel audience that graduate skills are widely applicable, diverse, and definitely marketable.  

Alumni Career Panels are great examples of informational interviews, which help you learn about professionals’ career paths and their work. We want to thank both of our wonderful UA alumni for taking the time from their busy schedules to offer advice for graduate students and to share details about their career journey. You can follow both Dr. Gage and Dr. DuMontier on LinkedIn and introduce yourself! You can also join our UA Graduate Center LinkedIn group to stay up to date on events, internships, and job opportunities. Use our LinkedIn Profile handout to update your information and then request an expert LinkedIn Profile Review. Visit our Graduate Center Career Services website for more information about the resources we offer.