This past Tuesday, the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy hosted InChip Lunch and Learn: Imagining Career Paths Beyond the Academy, a seminar that discussed different paths graduate students can take after receiving their diploma. This specific seminar featured Dr. Jaime Foster (PhD), who is now a state representative in the Connecticut General Assembly for the 57th District of Ellington and East Windsor.
Dr. Jaime Foster is originally from New York, but grew up most of her life in Connecticut, where she eventually made the decision to attend the University of Connecticut with the intention of becoming a dietician and opening her own private practice for weight loss counseling.
Dr. Foster began the seminar by sharing a story that pivoted her entire career path. One day, she was teaching a nutrition lesson in Windham Middle School when a young child would not stop throwing pencils in the air. Dr. Foster expressed her annoyance with the little discipline he had received, until she overheard his teacher ask him if he had breakfast or dinner the night before, both to which he answered no.
“Kids need food and we need to make sure their fundamental needs are met, and so I totally pivoted my undergrad focus in nutritional science to do anti-hunger work and community nutrition,” said Dr. Foster.
It was at this particular moment, and a plethora of others, that Dr. Foster found her true calling and began her devotion to anti-hunger work and research, which would eventually lead her to the state representative position she is currently in … However, it didn’t happen that fast.
It was during her Master’s program that Dr. Foster “got the research bug,” and was profoundly fascinated and passionate about all of her findings. She explains how she would always express to former UConn professor Amy Mobley (PhD) about how her work matters, who would then tell her to do something about it, such as contacting policy makers.
Dr. Foster began to notice the immense importance of connecting research to public policy. She realized how research could impact public policy if it was used properly, and experienced that even in her own personal life. When her candidate dropped out of the Democratic race, Dr. Foster ran herself and won. Because of her past with research and immense academia background, Dr. Foster was not only able to have a political perspective, but also an academic one.
She explained how she would ask specific questions during her public hearings, such as, “Is your doctorate still in good standing? Do you publish research in relevant journals to vaccinations, infections epidemiology? Are your credentials registered under the CT Department of Health?” If it were not for these basic, but important inquiries, anyone could state they were a verified doctor and make their case.
This is just one of the many examples that showcases the importance of having a basic scientific understanding or scientists present during political discourse.
Dr. Jaime Foster is the perfect example of an individual who is immensely interested in academia, but uses that knowledge and strength in a non-academic career path. She showcases to the audience that academia is not the only possible career path for graduate students.