#IAmNYAS: Carolyn J. Foster, PhD
Published May 10, 2018
With decades of experience and perspective on working in STEM, Academy Member Carolyn J. Foster, PhD, offers reflections on her career path, some of the mentors and key networks that helped her along the way, as well as the new area of biology that she's focusing her energy on today.
Why did you first decide to pursue a career in STEM?
Believe it or not, my first grade teacher gave me a book about science to read, and I knew from then on that I would be a scientist. It took me a long while to figure out just what kind of science I would pursue, but I never wavered.
Did you have any mentors as you pursued a STEM education and career?
My 10th grade biology teacher, Howard Grout, was my first true mentor. He started me on an experiment in plant tissue culture, which disastrously turned into an experiment in culturing mold, but I was hooked. In my first job after getting out of graduate school, I did tissue culture and biochemistry full time. There I met my next true mentor, Art Blume, when I started working in his lab at the Roche Institute. He taught me much more about biochemistry than I learned while getting a masters in the field, and he introduced me to pharmacology through the Academy’s Biochemical Pharmacology Discussion Group (BPDG).
You spent many years involved with the Academy’s Biochemical Pharmacology Discussion Group (BPDG). What led you to become involved with the group?
One of the founders of the BPDG, Herb Shepherd, was in drug discovery at Hoffman LaRoche. My boss developed a collaboration with him, and I was lucky to sit in on discussions about new mechanisms for targeting drugs. That’s when I knew that pharmacology and drug discovery would be my real scientific home. A whole crew of Roche scientists trekked to the BPDG most months, and that was where I started my education in pharmacology, which continued when I went back to graduate school.
Why are cross-sector discussion groups like the BPDG so important for STEM professionals, and why are they so rare in so many fields?
The Academy is a unique place where industry scientists can meet with academic and government scientists on neutral territory to exchange ideas. The cross-fertilization helps all of us to do our jobs better, and the exchange is much more valuable in this open environment than it is when professors are invited to give paid lectures at companies.
What unique role do you see the Academy filling within the larger STEM world?
There are many answers to this question, but let me give a personal one. The Academy and the BPDG created a space where I could work with my peers across the drug industry. I made deep friendships and connections that supported me through difficult times at work and helped me move ahead in my career through networking. I learned a lot of great science and also management skills when I took a turn running the BPDG. The BPDG was a place where, early in my career, I could organize programs and interact directly with the bigwigs in my field of interest.
You recently joined the Academy’s 1817 Heritage Society. Why is it important for you to support the Academy?
I support the Academy so that young scientists can have the same nurturing environment I enjoyed, so that they can see new opportunities and meet people from all aspects of STEM.
What things are inspiring you right now?
Now in retirement, I am applying much of my energy to another form of biology—gardening. I am learning everything I can about native plants, and I’m slowly turning our property in Connecticut into a native plant garden that supports pollinators and birds. I’m composting and growing vegetables, and I volunteer to help beautify our town with native plants and flower gardens as well.
Join Carolyn in building on your legacy within the sciences by becoming a Member of the Academy’s 1817 Heritage Society. Learn more here.