Our Leadership Academy Alumni Spotlight Series continues this summer with Karen DSouza'19, who currently just finished the first year of her PhD at the Mayo Clinic. Karen was a bioengineering major, and was involved extensively in research during her undergraduate degree. Read on to learn more about Karen, her experiences as a PhD student, and what she gained from her time in the Leadership Academy!

How did you first get involved with the Leadership Academy?

I was first introduced to the leadership academy through the College of Engineering newsletters. Joining the Leadership Academy seemed like a great way to develop my professional skills in a friendly but focused environment.

What advice would you give to students who are in the Leadership Academy, or who are new to it?

You get the most out of Leadership Academy when you actively engage in the workshops that are offered. Students who partake in the Leadership Academy have a unique access to industry professionals who are really notable in their field. Learning from and interacting with these individuals has been a great opportunity to grow my leadership skills while expanding my professional network.  

What were some of your favorite parts of the program? What did you enjoy?

I loved attending workshops that made me reflect on myself, my goals and my aspired trajectory. Most notably, I loved the workshop titled “Engineering Your Superpower” by Sue Galatz. In this workshop I learned how to identify my strengths and how to utilize them to my advantage while navigating various aspects of my career. 

In what ways have you been able to incorporate some lessons from the Leadership Academy into your current role and experience at the Mayo Clinic?

Going off some lessons from “Engineering Your Superpower”, I learned a lot about the type of environments I succeed in professionally and gained confidence in my “people skills”.

I am currently finishing up my first year of my PhD program at the Mayo Clinic. While my trajectory here has been anything but linear, I have enjoyed it tremendously and that is in part due to what I learned from the Leadership Academy. From my lab rotations, I was able to identify what factors of a lab helped me be successful which in turn helped me find a phenomenal mentor and thesis committee

How do you think the Leadership Academy most impacted you?

The Leadership Academy has impacted my professional growth in many ways. From my time here I was able to learn skills like effective communication that’s helped improve communication literacy with my mentors and peers. I also learned how to take advantage of opportunities that are helpful for either your professional or personal growth. I didn’t think I would have time for extracurricular activities as a PhD student but after arriving at the Mayo Clinic I have been able to listen in on talks from many great scientists and leaders. I have also been active in the Student Life and Wellness Committee where I have most recently started to lead initiatives pertaining to diversity, equity, and inclusion within the graduate school.

Can you describe your title and the work you do at Mayo Clinic, as well as your grad program?

As a PhD student, I am constantly learning. Knowledge in academia is somewhat dynamic and constantly expanding, so I spend a lot of time reading or listening to talks outside of class.

While my thesis project is not yet solidified, my research broadly focuses on issues surrounding women’s health, health disparities and reproductive ethics where I am more specifically interested in how we can make AI equitable and utilize it to support clinical care.

As you’ve been working and going through a PhD program, what have been some opportunities and challenges for you in your role?

I would say my biggest challenge is still yet to come as my qualifying exams will take place this time next year!

So far, jugging classes and staying on top of my research has proven to be a little challenging, where now due to COVID-19, I work from home which has its own set of obstacles. You forget the benefits of working in a structured and collaborative environment until you don’t have them. However, being able to overcome these challenges as a first year student has been rewarding and has taught me a lot when it comes to adaptability. 

On the flip side, here at Mayo I have gotten to learn from some of the top scientists in their field - that knowledge and experience is invaluable. I am surrounded by people who are motivated in what they do and whom are eager to learn more in order to advance knowledge in their respective fields so it’s a very stimulating environment to be in.

Can you list all the activities/programs you were involved with at OSU?

Outside of the leadership academy, I was a part of a dance group on campus called Punjab da Nashaa that practiced a classical Indian dance form called Bhangra with some elements of Hip Hop.

Any last thoughts about anything (Leadership Academy; post-grad life; etc.) you would like to share?

Being a part of the Leadership Academy has given me a foundation for success in my next steps after undergrad. Whether you choose to go into academia or industry, the Leadership Academy teaches you extremely valuable lessons that you can utilize in any workplace. Completing the program gave me confidence to be assertive and follow my instincts.

More generally, after graduating, you appreciate college in a different way. College is the best time to try new things, find your passions and gain new perspectives. While it’s important to do well in school and prepare for your career, it’s equally, if not more important, to explore what college has to offer and to build and cherish relationships and friendships with those you meet. You’ll miss the friends you study with until the early hours of the morning and those who you celebrate your successes and milestones with. Before it’s all said and done, make sure you had a good time.