A Conversation with Sarah ML Wilkening

About Sarah

Name: Sarah ML Wilkening
Location: Atlanta, GA
Community Connection: PhD Alum
Career: Licensing Associate; part-time law student at GSU
Alma Mater: Manchester University
Research Group: Hill
Committee: Hill, Lian, Scarborough, Salaita

What is something that you used to believe, but no longer do?

I [used to believe that I needed] to do things the same way everyone else in my office does. But it’s easier for me to get my work done effectively if I do it in a way that works for me. (Caveat: this mentality won’t work if your boss or employer has a strict procedure for doing things, but if there is flexibility in how things can be done, just because someone before you started a trend doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it.)

Do you have a system for being more productive? Dealing with procrastination? Burn-out?

For burn-out AND productivity: take a break and go for a run; Procrastination: Set multiple deadlines for different parts of a task, if it can be split up. If not, I set a tentative deadline for the entire task.

What makes you most excited about your work?

The opportunity to learn new things or different ways to do the same thing from other people.

If you could re-make any movie or TV series what would it be and what would you change?

I would make the Harry Potter series into a TV show where each chapter or couple of chapters would make up the entire episode. I wish there were parts of the current movies that didn’t skip over key characters or change facts to fit the story into a movie format.

What do you do when things don’t work?

Let it go, don’t dwell, but find a new solution. For example, if I don’t get awarded a scholarship, I find a different one to apply for. Or if I don’t answer a question well in my law classes, I laugh it off (it’s usually embarrassing, but no one but you remembers it), then focus on learning what I said wrong and trying to answer the next one correctly.

If you could be any other type of scientist, what would you be and why?

I like being a jack of all trades, even though that naturally makes me incapable of being an expert in any one thing. I have the ability to learn enough about a project to evaluate its patentability and commercial potential.

What are your hobbies?

Running, lifting weights, playing piano, and dog training. I am also always learning and pushing myself to learn more about different areas of science or law.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

“Just put your head down and do the work.” I think it’s necessary to look up and realize your progress, keep records of when you did something right or when someone complemented your way of doing something, and absolutely take opportunities to network, volunteer in organizations, or meet people from different backgrounds. It’s amazing how much of graduate school I wasted by only doing chemistry-related events. The Laney Graduate School is big and you can network in other departments, find an organization outside of Emory and volunteer, be active, and get yourself known.

What advice do you have for graduate students looking to build their network?

People like to talk about themselves! Find a person whose career seems interesting to you and reach out via email, LinkedIn, or other means and ask if they would be interested in meeting with you for coffee or lunch so that you can learn more about them. It is not asking them for a job, but rather learning to communicate with people in a field you are interested in. Each meeting you will get better questions to ask the next person and you will usually start to see that people in an industry know each other.

How did you find your passion in science? 

Science and technology are the key to improving this world; curing diseases; creating the next big product. I don’t know how I fell into chemistry–it just clicked for me and it was fun!

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