Elisabeth McClure (A08) is a fellow at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and a Johnnie making a difference.
St. John’s College: How have you helped the Career Services Office at St. John’s College?
Elisabeth McClure: I’ve participated in three different career talks, including a “Women in Science” panel with several other alumnae in the sciences. I created a Career Roadmap for students interested in going into research psychology or other cognitive sciences, and I am listed as an alumni contact for my field. I often field questions via email from students interested in pursuing research in psychology.
SJC: What is your favorite part about interacting with St. John’s students?
EM: They are so thoughtful. I can trust that if they don’t understand they will ask me a question, which not only makes them interesting and fun to interact with—it is also so important in science. Some (non-Johnnie) students I’ve worked with will do what they’re told even if they don’t understand it, and they don’t ask questions. This can lead to major errors in the lab.
St. John’s students are also motivated by something bigger than themselves. They’re not just trying to pad their resumes; they’re trying to find truth and meaning, both in the world and for their own lives. If you ever host a Johnnie intern for a summer, you’ll get a sense that this experience has deep existential consequences for them. It gives the mentorship relationship a sense of gravitas.
SJC: What has the St. John’s College alumni community meant to your own career?
EM: I was fortunate enough to shadow Nicolas Capozzoli (AGI81), a practicing neurologist and tutor at St. John’s, during my senior year at St. John’s. He is also an alumnus of the college’s Graduate Institute. That experience, as well as his continued personal and professional support in the years since, have had a major influence on my career. His incredible generosity of spirit and support of my interests inspired me to pass on these gifts to current students and other alumni.
SJC: How has your education at St. John’s equipped you for your own career?
EM: St. John’s prepared me for what I do now by helping me develop critical thinking skills—or, as I sometimes describe it now, a “scientist's mind.” When I graduated, I didn't know the specific jargon of the field I ultimately chose, nor did I have any real-world research experience (unless you count replicating the great experiments of scientists past), but these are things that are easily acquired if you're willing to put in the time. In my view, it is much more difficult to develop those critical thinking skills than to pick up the experience and vocabulary afterward—so I would say that St. John's prepared me in the best way possible for getting a PhD and conducting research.
SJC: What would you say to an alumnus who is on the fence about getting involved?
EM: I came to the conclusion several years ago that the best thing that could happen to my field is for more Johnnies to enter it. My field needs more deeply critical thinkers! Once I realized this, I started getting involved in Career Services opportunities whenever I could. Sharing my experiences with students and alumni and helping them get started in the field is truly rewarding: Not only do you get the buzz of helping someone else, you also get the wonderful companionship of another Johnnie with whom to discuss the great questions! St. John’s students are so wonderfully eager to learn, and they bring a breath of fresh air into your work environment. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that I’m giving back, in a tangible way, to the place and people that mean so much to me.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
—Brady Lee (AGI14)