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Women in Science Project
6201 Parker House
Hanover, NH 03755

Phone: 603-646-3690

Karen Menuz '99

An interview by Surabhi Gaur '03, July 23, 2001

Name: Karen Menuz Class Year: 1999 E-mail and/or phone number:
May Dartmouth students contact you? Yes
If so, by what method (phone, mail, e-mail)? E-mail -

When and How Did You First Get Interested in Science?

I wasn't always interested in science, though I did well at it. I was more interested in math. By chance I took Bio 3 my freshman year because it counted as an interdisciplinary class, and I found that I liked Biology. I still was debating between Math and Biology as a major until I took Bio 34, which hooked me on Neurobiology. At the same time, Math seemed less tangible as the courses I took became more advanced. The more Biology courses I took, the more I knew I had made the right decision. I majored in Chemistry as a bit of a fluke. I had already taken many Physics and Math courses, which counted towards the Chemistry major and I enjoyed my Chemistry classes, especially since they were more quantitative than the biology ones. In my junior year I realized I only needed a few more Chemistry classes for the major, and I just decided to go for it.

What Was Your Major in College

Double major in Biology and Chemistry.

What Science-related Activities Did You Participate In, If Any? Were They Important and Why? Did They Make Science Intriguing or Generate Ideas for Continuing on In the Sciences?

I participated in the WISP First-Year Internship Program with mathematics professor Bob Norman as my sponsor. I enjoyed this opportunity to do experimental research. After these two quarters of work I was very much interested in research. I also developed a lasting friendship and source of advice in Professor Norman. Later I was a Presidential Scholar Research Assistant in the lab of Dr. Robert Maue, an Associate Professor of Physiology and Biochemistry in the Dartmouth Medical School. The Presidential Scholar program motivated me to look for a laboratory in which to do biology research. After being handed a list of professors willing to take students, it was much easier to get up the courage to talk to professors and decide on a research area. This work continued into my senior year as an honors research project. Dr. Maue was a great mentor for my first biology research project. However the greatest influence on my future career was the result of my receipt of the Dartmouth/Max Planck Institute Scholarship my junior year. I researched for four months in Germany, and I found that I really liked living and researching abroad. This greatly affected the direction I took after graduating.

During College, Did You Have an Idea of What You Wanted to Do After Graduation?

I was pretty sure I wanted to go to graduate school, but I had doubts. More importantly I wanted to take some time off first, because I knew that I wouldn't have much free time once in grad school.

How Did You Decide What to Do After College? What Were Your Goals, Etc.? Did you Follow This Path? What Were Your Jobs After Graduation?

During my senior year I applied for a DAAD (Deutsche Akademisch Austauschdienst) scholarship. The organization supports students that can speak some German (fluent isn't necessary) for a year of working on a research project and taking classes at a university in Germany. This was a great opportunity to meet scientists from another country as well as to grow as a person. I was so enamored of my time abroad, that I contacted another professor, this time in Switzerland, asking if he could support me for a year. Surprisingly he said yes, and I had another great year of research abroad. After these two years, I realized that I did enjoy lab work (well, most of the time). More importantly, I enjoyed the theories currently being tested in neurobiology research, and I'm interested in the questions left to be answered. Grad school was the next step forward.

What Are You Currently Involved In?

Graduate school in Neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco

Are You Still Involved in the Sciences? In What Ways?

Yes, as both a graduate student and a volunteer biology teacher in public high schools (once a month).

What's the Most Rewarding Component of Your Current Work and What Do You Find Less Fulfilling?

Taking classes, discussions with other students, and research are rewarding. The hours are not. It's not uncommon for me to be at the university for 12 hours or more a day, and there's still reading and problem sets to be done when I go home. The flip side to these crazy hours is that you can create your own schedule. If I want to sleep in, take days off in the middle of the week, etc., it's all up to me. There are no "fixed" 9-5 Monday to Friday work hours.

Where Do You Expect and Hope That This Work May Take You?

I hope to get my Ph.D. and eventually have my own lab. I'm still not sure what area of Neuroscience I want to focus on, but that's what grad school is for!

What Are Your Top Priorities Today? Have These Changed from When You First Graduated?

After my senior year at Dartmouth, I realized that I need balance in my life. Although I love biology, I don't want to devote 100% of my life to it. I enjoy other things such as languages, travel, and reading. I have to make the time for these things or else time will slip away without me noticing. I could spend my entire life in a lab, but I choose not to.

If You Could Change Anything about Your Career Trajectory, What Would It Be and Why?

I wouldn't have double majored in college. In the end the chemistry degree wasn't needed for what I did later, and at the time it just made me more stressed. It also took away from my time for other classes, time with friends, etc.

What Advice Do You Have for Current Students Who May Be Interested in the Sciences?

Take classes, volunteer in a lab job...just try it.

Last Updated: 10/20/10