Inspiring Ladies: Hyeouk Chris Hahm, PhD, MSSW


I am excited to include the newest interview to “inspiring ladies” featuring Dr. Hyeouk Chris Hahm, Associate Professor at the Boston University School of Social Work, and one of the hardest working women I have ever had the fortune to meet. Dr. Hahm grew up in South Korea and moved to the U.S. in her early twenties to pursue academia. She developed a passion for exploring and understanding the role of culture on mental and physical health, especially in young Asian American women. Over her career, Dr. Hahm has developed a strong reputation in the world of social research and has become an expert in Asian American women’s sexual and mental health. For a list of her publications and achievements please click the following and browse the other happenings in her research group, AWSHIP.

Dr. Hahm provides a unique insight into her South Korean- American culture, the challenges and rewards of being an immigrant to a new country, and tools for balancing hard-work, family, and joy in daily life.

1.  Tell me about your childhood.  How did you come to America?

I was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea.  Unlike many traditional Korean parents, my parents always instilled in me that as a woman, I could do anything.   My parents emphasized achieving a high education, developing curiosity, and setting high goals for myself.  I was always at the top of my class–in fact, I was the second female to serve as the Jangchung Elementary School president who represents grades 1-6.  The first female president (Park Kun Hae) at our elementary school became the first female President of South Korea!  So, I developed an always curious, competitive, and ambitious character as a young girl.

Like all high school students in Korea, I studied brutally.  I remember in the 11th and 12th grade, I studied at school until 9 PM, and after that I would take a van to a private library to study until 2 AM, and then I would come home at 2:30 AM.  Then I would wake up at 6 AM. I repeated this schedule for two years.  It was horrible and the toughest study time that I have ever experienced.  I would develop stomach aches, acne, and chronic fatigue.  But I kept going. I kept dreaming that I could play and rest once I got into the college that I wanted.  Despite this ridiculous effort, I did not get into the college that I really wanted to attend.   During that time, Korean students could only apply for one school and one major prior to taking a national exam.  I did not do well in the national exam, so I ended up going to a second-tier college.  That was very hard for me to swallow, so I started dreaming about the next chance for me to prove that I could be at the top school with top people.  I know it may sound snobbish, but that was very important for me at the time.  In my senior year of college (I was studying social work), I applied for graduate schools in the US.  When I got into the Columbia University School of Social Work to attend the Masters Program, I was thrilled to go to New York City to study.  Although the language was hard to learn and American culture was very different from the Korean cultural context in which I grew up, I was able to quickly adjust to the American school system and lifestyle.  I made a lot of friends; I purposely hung out with people from different cultures so that I could learn from them.

 2. How challenging was it to get started professionally, particularly as an international student?

When I first came to study in NYC, I was totally alone.  I didn’t know anyone.  I had no friends or relatives.  It was only three days before I came to America that I bumped into an elementary school friend who was living in Queens.  She said I could live with her friend while looking for a place to live (I can’t believe that my parents trusted me so much!).  I lived with her friend for 10 days—during which I found a room in Manhattan.  I took a cab and moved all my stuff from Queens to Manhattan (Upper West Side, near Columbia University) by myself.   That was the beginning of my life in Manhattan in the summer of 1992.  While attending the Masters Program, I observed, experienced, and constantly compared two cultures (Asian culture vs. American culture).  I was fascinated by their similarities and differences.  I wanted to explore how culture influences human cognition, expression, and behaviors.  Two and a half years later, I received my Masters degree from Columbia University.   

As soon as I graduated, I got a job at Queens Flushing Hospital. It was actually only a three-month job as an outreach worker for the Early Intervention Program (EIP) for Korean community members.  Because I was so anxious about getting a job soon, I took it (my Visa would have expired within a year if I didn’t have an employer).

I worked hard as an outreach worker to introduce EIP.   I took the bus, I walked, and I would knock on the doors of doctors’ offices for outreach work.  One day, the director of the outpatient mental health program asked me to do the psychiatric intake (the first interview) of an Iraqi patient.  The interview went very well, and my psychiatric intake was written with clarity and precision.  This pleased the director, and she hired me as a full-time psychiatric social worker in her unit.  I worked there for three years.  Although I was working full-time, I wanted to become a private practitioner and work in different health service centers.  Thus, I completed a workshop on how to start a private psychotherapy practice and within a week, I opened my own private psychotherapy practice on the side.  I also worked part-time as the psychotherapist at the Student Health Service Center in the New School of Social Research.  Through these experiences, my clinical skills strengthened, and I was exposed to diverse types of patients who had different diagnoses, different cultural backgrounds, and different accents.

3. How did you decide to transition into academia?

After three years [at Queens Flushing Hospital] of working as a clinician, I knew that I wanted to do research.  I observed that many patients were not getting better. Most of the clinicians were focusing on maintaining the functioning of the patients instead of making a real difference in the symptoms of functioning.  There were no specific outcome measures at that time, and psychodynamic approaches were still the dominating techniques in those clinical settings.

At that time, I was newly married to a post-doctoral fellow (a fellow in Neurobiology) in the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.  We would go to the medical school together every weekend.  He would go to the lab, and I would go to the library to read the peer review journals about clinical practice.

I wanted to share ideas with wider networks of people, and I was very curious about knowledge development.  At that time, I felt that the only thing that would satisfy me was a Ph.D. program.  I applied for the Doctoral Program in the Columbia University School of Social Work and I got in.  I quit my job but I maintained my private practice, and started my new program.

 4. What is the biggest risk you have ever taken? Do you think it was a positive one?

I take risks.  I push myself to take more risks more frequently.  My mom jokes about that, “when you are debating whether to go or not, just go; whether to do something or not, just do it” (laughs).  Of course, we use our reasoning to calculate the win and loss ratios when taking risks.  Taking an initiative and challenging the status quo using the growth mindset is so critical.  My biggest risk was coming to America. I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t know what it would be like. But I was so propelled by my drive to prove that I could be successful that I made it work.

To me, taking a risk also involves tolerating the uncertainty—the gray area.  For example, before we moved to San Francisco, my husband got offered a job as an assistant professor at a school of medicine in the South.  The same university wanted to offer me a position as an assistant professor at its school of social work.  That would have been the easiest way to settle down.  But we ended up choosing to go to San Francisco.   He had another job offer to be a scientist at a bio-tech company, and I did not have a job, but we still chose to go there because we were young and we wanted to take a risk in one of the greatest cities in the US.  I felt that as a researcher interested in issues that Asian-American individuals face in urban settings, San Francisco would be a great place for me to really begin my academic career.  In retrospect we made the right choice.  We loved that city. I was able to work as a post-doctoral fellow at University of California, Berkeley, and I made important networks which were pivotal to my current research.

 5. What are your greatest passions and how do you find ways to incorporate them into your everyday life?

I am not sure if I can call this my greatest passion, but exercise has been one of the most important things in my life.  I have been exercising almost every day before anyone wakes up at home–for the past 12 years. Ever since I had a baby I became more highly engaged in exercise. Even on the day of my biggest presentations, I still exercise!  It is my meditation.

I find that exercise has short-term and long-term effects. I really believe that it has transformed my health and mind. I try to live a balanced life, so that I don’t run into an emergency and get sick or something. I do little things consistently. A little bit every day. Taking care of yourself and feeling good about yourself are important.

 6. How do you feel that being a woman has affected your career path?

It’s hard for women to make it to the top in academia–i.e., getting tenure in academia or going beyond.

Today, I think it is becoming more possible to have children and be successful in academia because it is more common for women to have children and have a career. I think it is critical to distribute time really well, so that you maintain a balanced life.

I don’t take long vacations. That’s what a mentor at Columbia University once told me–not to take a long summer vacation during the tenure track position.  I make time everyday to do things for me and to be happy. Creativity also comes out when I am doing something else outside of writing, research, etc. and I can then pull back to work later on.

7. What, for you, was the most fun and exciting aspect or event of your young professional years?

The reason I like academia is because I can have a prolonged relationship with people.  There is a deeper relationship in mentoring than in teaching alone. Students come and go when teaching in the classrooms, but mentoring students is a lifelong commitment.  Working with young people is energizing to me.  I have the opportunity to discuss and clarify ideas and develop them with my students.  That is very exciting for me. Learning is a lifelong journey, and being an academic offers the opportunity to do that.

My work engages with that on a daily basis, and that is the most exciting aspect because people are always talking about ideas. There is a collectivity in my work–a community of thinkers. My satisfaction level is so high because I get to do this constantly.

8. What advice would you give other young professionals?

Be the first one to invite people and be the first to approach others to talk.  Don’t wait until other people come to you because that does not happen that often.  I have always moved around, and wherever I moved I always made friends. I learned to approach people first and invite people first. Even when I was living in a small apartment in NYC, my husband and I always invited friends over. Friends connect me to other people, give me other ideas, and I find that I can be confident that somehow problems will dissolve because I know somebody will connect me to another opportunity.

You may think spending all your time in the office is the only way to be successful.  But it is important that a portion of your time be spent socializing. I try to attend as many school functions as I can for my children and do volunteer work for their school.  I have three boys, and I am serving as a co-president at my oldest child’s middle school.  

In addition, I think that success is determined by how well you can tolerate discomfort, pain, and difficult people.  I’ve seen so many people who are very smart, but they don’t do well later on or don’t make it to the top because their social skills are lacking.  Social skills are about tolerating difficult people and getting along with them.

Make your enemy, or the difficult person in your life, your friend.  Success is determined by how you handle difficulties with intelligence, not conflict. I think being transparent is important.  Tell people how you feel.  As a woman–especially as a minority woman–I have felt humiliated by others in the past, and I tell people about how I felt after my anger subsides.  I have even gone on to make friends with those same people, so sometimes gentle confrontation does help.  People are often leaving the job because of the people, but I say instead of fight-or-flight, approach.

Lastly, remember to follow your heart.  Don’t think too much about the money because the money will follow passion.  If you truly do what you want to do, money will follow.  I have definitely learned that.  Even when applying for grants, I know that certain areas are better funded than others, but I cannot tailor my submission to those needs.  I have to believe in my goals and my research.

Instead of writing about a topic that I know reviewers want to see, I take a different approach, and I say, “Let’s have our rigor and excellence intoxicate the reviewers.”

If you don’t follow your heart, life becomes so difficult.  People tell me that I need to take more vacation time, but I feel good because I love what I am doing.  I feel so fortunate.




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Inspiring Ladies: Jessica Taylor-Potts, PhD

WCUCOM's Dr. Johnny Porter,  Dr. Jessica Taylor,  and Dr. John Bailey


Assistant Professor of Physiology/Biological Sciences at the William Carrey College of Osteopathic Medicine (MS, USA)

Doctor of Biomedical Science (University of Missouri, 2008), Jessica has demonstrated a clear passion for science and human physiology, and in particular, the cardiovascular system. Having lost her husband to cancer only eight months after having her first child, Jessica took time to prioritize her family and surround her daughter and herself with a loving support network, while only later returning to her passion for science. A mother first and academic second, Jessica is an inspiring example of positivity, passion, and intelligence, and the importance of remaining true to your unique values and needs.

1. What was your first job?

My first job was a technician job in a medicinal school in Wisconsin.

2. When and how did you decided to become a medical school professor?

For a long time, I thought I wanted to be a physician. It was my goal all through elementary, high school, and into college. During my junior in undergrad, I realized I enjoyed the research aspect of medicine and learning how the body works more than working with patients. I suddenly went from being a hardcore bio major to a physiology major, and I realized that it was what I wanted to do. I continued to meet with professors, and I met with one in particular who offered to hire me in a physiology lab, where I realized I liked working, not with patients, but with animals. During this time, one professor in the lab asked me to do something that sounds a little crazy: to through all the scientific abstracts that I might like and circle what I liked within them. Through the process, I eventually discovered a theme, and realized that I like the cardiovascular system.  So my professor said, “these are places that I could go; these are the people I know, etc.” With that, I left my job and went to Missouri and started a new career.

Also, my grandmother would want me to add this, when I was four I played with the heart of turkey at Thanksgiving. That was one of the earliest signs that I was meant [for this field].

3. How difficult was it to pursue your professional goals? What were your greatest obstacles?

I have been extremely lucky in the people that have helped me. I have had a great support network, and it wasn’t until recently that I realized that it’s not always like that.

[In science], my biggest obstacle has been experimental issues such as animals dying, making sure that there is money available for testing- in pharmacological interventions drugs are really expensive and many are made outside of the U.S. But that’s all normal for experimental research.

[Personally], being far away from my family was a big obstacle. But, again, I always had a lot of support.

 4.  What do you consider to be your greatest success post-collegiately?

Success is my daughter. She is four and a half, and raising her has been a rewarding challenge every single day. Being a working mom is difficult, and finding the right environment where you can be good at your job and be good at parenting is key.

I am a parent before everything else. It is one thing for your child to be well-behaved, healthy, get into good schools…but, having other people tell you that they think you’re a good mom, that is a really big deal to me.

I [also] really like teaching; I find it very rewarding, and, for me, going into teaching was a really good decision. To give a lecture and to see even just one student get it and see the light bulb go off – that is what it is all about. I also have a unique program when I keep my student for all four years, which allows me to build relationships with them. I tell my students that my room is a safe place, and if they just need somewhere to let it all out and cry, they will not be judged, and it will not leave this room. I am giving back some of the mentoring that I have had.

5. What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?

I took a small risk to turn down a post-doc to get married and move to where my husband had a job, and when my daughter was born I quit my job in order to raise her. I thought I had slaughtered my career. I had given up everything to take of my family, and all these horrible things came through my head: had I given in career? [After the death of my husband], I packed up my daughter and we moved to my hometown [in Mississippi], and I was able to go back into work locally. I realized I hadn’t given it in, I had just moved onto a different path.

 6. What are your passions? How do you find a way to incorporate them into your daily life?

I spend a lot of time with my daughter, and I try don’t work in the evenings when she is awake. I can’t say I don’t bring my work home, but I’d rather give up sleep, so that I can spend time with her. I know that tomorrow she will be a different person, and I want to be her mom. I make sure I do my work well, and then I can be allowed to do other things I want to do, and that allows me to be a good mom.

Second, one of the reasons I chose my career is because I love traveling, and I want my little girl to see those things. A reason I gave up research and focused more heavily on teaching was to have the summer to travel. I believe that enjoying things outside of work that you like will help you in work. Me and my little girl enjoy things together. Just because you’re an adult and a parent, you can’t lose yourself, your passions, and you still need to be you. It took me entire adult life to figure that out. You are still whoever you were before. You can’t guilt yourself do things. You can get your work done, and then weekends and time to travel.

7. What is the most fun experience you have had since graduating from college?

Every year since I’ve graduated from college I’ve gone to a science conference. It’s pretty much nerd central with 12,000 nerds in one place. All the people I have met come together to talk about science. You get to catch up with people, and learn about their current work and research. A lot of my friends have moved all over the country and world. I may not read their papers anymore, so it’s great to come together. Plus, you go to diner and nobody cares that you’re talking about science- its just normal. You get to be yourself. It’s renewing and reinvigorating. It reminds me of why I am doing what I do.

8. Do you have any other words of wisdom that you think could be of value to recent and up-coming college graduates?

 Don’t rush. I really pushed my way out of school, and I finished a PhD by 27 years old- and that’s pretty quick!

Just because you graduated from college doesn’t mean you need to be on a hard-core career path right now. Don’t put yourself on a schedule because you’re going to turn X, or need to do Y. Your work and future will be more valuable if you have experienced something unique.

Inspiring Ladies: Emily Jones

girls group girls with me on my porch

A graduate of Dartmouth College, Emily Jones holds a deep passion for service and informed community development, which is evident through her actions and career aspirations. She has most recently demonstrated that passion through a two-year mission in the West African country of Togo, where she worked as a girl’s education and empowerment Peace Corps volunteer, specifically working to build a community-accessible library in her community. Speaking with Emily, I found her positive energy and friendly personality infectious, and her passion and drive for social justice was palpable.  Though early in her career, Emily’s story will definitely inspire other young women, especially those with a penchant for community development.  

Interview Questions

1. Describe What You Are Doing Now?

 I am about to start a two-year Master in Public Policy program at the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government. I hope to work in non-profit management, working in government or non-profit agencies (i.e. Mayors’ offices) and working on poverty elimination policy where you do need these public policy skills. [I’ll be taking] leadership courses, management courses, and economics- skills that I’ll need to do economic analysis into order to understand what will be the best policy for alleviating poverty in a community. What’s nice about the Kennedy School is that it is possible to apply the skills you’ve gained in communities abroad or domestically. I think there is so much that needs to done [in poverty policy development] locally, and while it’s so important to do work in other areas as well, I see myself working in Boston.

2. When you first graduated from college, what were your primary goals?

 I knew that I wanted to do the Peace Corps or something similar, and I decided to participate in the AmeriCorps program because I wanted to be closer to home due to a death in the family. AmeriCorps does have similar service-oriented goals to the Peace Corps, and I worked specifically in the City Year program.

After graduation I had the general understanding that I wanted to do something in the community development sector, but I was not sure about specifics. I knew I was interested in these ideas like gender equality, but I didn’t have a specific plan.

3. What challenges did you face in pursuing your goal of participating in the Peace Corps?

It takes a long time to apply and then to get into the Peace Corps, but I think [the process] is worth it. The process of completing an application and then being placed into an actual site can take anywhere between 10 months to a year and a half. They need to clear you legally and medically, as you may not have a lot of access to healthcare in the area you are placed.

Then once you get to your location, there are challenges as well. There are ups and downs through the two years. The relationships you make and the projects you get to do are rewarding and eye opening. You have the chance to learn about yourself and your values and beliefs, and you also learn about another culture and how people around the world live. This understanding helps inform work in social justice because you are living the issues everyday and taking daily actions to create social justice.

4. What are your greatest passions and how do you find ways to incorporate them into your life today?

 I am really into environmental issues, and making sure that we are thinking down the road and into the future. I support efforts to try to get off oil and go carbon neutral. It was very easy for me to live an environmentally friendly life [in Togo], where you’re actually eating and living very locally. You eat whatever you can access locally. When you buy something, you go to the market and you know who grew it, and if you have to buy something there is a big chain of goods coming in internationally. You are able to see that globally there is a trend of international consumerism. It was nice to become more aware of that.

It’s been a challenge coming back to the U.S. and keeping up my environmentally sustainable lifestyle. There are things I’ve been adamant about doing: buying locally, and being more aware of my role as a consumer in general. I try to buy less, and be okay with what I already have. It’s not just environmental; it’s also economic. I look at things and compare it to Togolese prices, where it was much different.

My other passions: I love the outdoors. What’s cool about the Peace Corps is that you spend two years living outside, and people’s lifestyles are very family based and generally set in a big, community-focused courtyard. You actually sleep outside during the hot season. That initially forced me to be outdoors, but I found I really enjoyed it.

I also like books- I got to help create a community library in Togo.

I also like public art, and there are a lot of things going on and people are doing performative public art. Every September, there is an event where artists take public spaces such as a parking lot, and for a day, he/she creates a public garden or something cool like that, and people can enjoy it together. In Togo, people spend a lot of time saying ‘Hi’ to each other, but [in the U.S.] people are so busy, and it can be hard to sit down and say ‘Hi’. These [public art events] encourage people to build community and be more involved and engaged- to stay and sit down and talk to a neighbor. It brings together people from all different walks of life to build community.

5. What is your proudest accomplishment thus far?

My work in Togo. We created a conference and, with my co Peace Corps volunteers, we organized an opportunity for Togolese girls to travel to their regional capital and meet professional women from all different sectors, to see them in action, to talk to them and receive mentoring from them. We provided sessions on time management, thinking about future, health, etc., and the whole point was to encourage the girls to stay in school longer and follow their personal and professional dreams. We asked what they were interested and used those responses to inform the professionals we would visit. For example, some girls wanted to be bankers, so we visited those women.

Those were some of my proudest moments, especially because the program has been sustained since my term in the Peace Corps. Now, over 50 girls have gone, and other Peace Corps volunteers continue to inspire girls to stay in school and continue their education.

You could see the girls pointing out the women they looked up to, and the positions they aspired to see their motivation; it was indicative of them getting the spirit.

6. What has been the most challenging time, event, situation, etc. for you thus far? How did you handle that challenge?


Peace Corps can be a very challenging experience, even just physically. You may be in a hot environment, there are tons of bugs, you can get sick a lot, you may not be used to the food. It can be really demanding, and the work might be draining. 24/7 you are expected to be working, and you are always expected to maintain a certain professional level. So, that can be challenging in itself.

But specifically, I worked on the Community Library project in Togo. I had this idea that we could build it in 5 months- this very American mindset. What I found, and this was a challenge for me, is that you need to be really patient and let other people go through the process. What you are trying to do is inspire people to empower themselves, and that is going to make it sustainable and durable for the future. You take the time and have other people make the decisions instead of deciding them yourself. I had to step back and make a committee and have them come to this larger consensus so we could move forward in the project. It was a really good experience because I discovered that [a community project] is more successful and will have more buy-in, when it’s their project- it’s not my project anymore.

You have to be patient and things take longer than you think they will. I learned patience, which is important in community development.

Finally, the Peace Corps program is only two years, and in community development, two years is just a drop in the bucket. Also, there are actually three goals that you are signing on for when you volunteer for the Peace Corps, and two of them are cultural exchange. First, is American-to-Togolese cultural exchange, the second is Togolese-to-American exchange, and the third is technical expertise sharing. Thus, two-thirds of our goals were culture understanding, where you can qualitatively – but not necessarily quantitatively – measure the difference you have made. This can be challenging, but is rewarding as well.

7. What did you take away from that cultural exchange?

 When I initially started my service, I had this separation. I had my American life, and I had my circle of Peace Corps volunteers, and I had the Togolese community that was a separate group. But, I was surprised to have so much in common with my Togolese colleagues. I think I was closer with my Togolese colleagues and friends by the end of the two years, because you spend so much time with these people, and you have a lot of shared humanity.

Realizing we have such a shared humanity with someone half-a-world away makes it possible for us to bridge a cultural difference, which will facilitate improvements in international policy development. The hope is to increase peace in the world, bridge cultural divides, and decrease misunderstandings. Though that all sounds loose, it’s actually profound that you really can share so much with people in a community far away and create long-lasting friendships.

8. What, for you, has the most fun and exciting aspect or event of your young professional years?

 The Peace Corps can be a lot of fun. Some of the best moments I had there were when I was experiencing the Togolese culture. There was a lot of traditional dancing during harvest time, where we cooked lots of food and everybody dances together. In the culture, when a harvest comes in, that is very important for people.

In general, just ganging out with my Togolese counterparts was also fun. I enjoyed spending the day with friends and colleagues, cooking food, going for motorcycle rides, and just getting to chill with everybody.

9. What advice would you give other young professionals who are getting started?

 I have recently been looking back at things I have journaled and written in the recent past, and it has been really informative. I think it’s important to find a way to continually think about what you are passionate about and find ways to move toward that.

In Togo, I would talk to the girls and ask people what they were passionate about. I have also found that it is excellent to ask as many questions as you can with people in your chosen field and ask about what they do and how they got to be where they are. It’s a win-win situation. Talk to people, and write down what you’re interested in.

I think everyone is sort of making it up as they go along. Our generation is different; earlier generations would chose a job and be in the same sector for life. Now there is the option – it’s even encouraged – to change jobs, move into different sectors, and chose what you want to do. Remember that it is okay to be okay with your path. You are on a journey, and you don’t have to do everything at once. If you want to be the President, and right now you are doing something else, that’s okay. It takes time, but if you keep following the things you’re interested in and passionate about, you’ll move toward that goal. Sometimes you have jobs that you don’t like and then you know this is not what you want to do. Maybe it wasn’t fun, but it was helpful. Even bad experiences, and things that you think are negative, are opportunities to learn about yourself.

Inspiring Ladies: Beri Brown, PhD


MA/PhD Student in Experimental Psychology/ Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Lab Member (MS, USA); Seasonal Character Performer at Walt Disney World

MA/PhD student in Experimental Psychology, Beri has taken a “unique” path to academia beginning her career following her passion for dance as a character performer at Walt Disney World. Realizing a passion for working with marine mammals early on in her career, Beri worked toward making her dream a reality and doing behavioral and cognitive research with marine mammals. Beri is a positive, bubbly, and energetic woman who exemplifies the power of discovering and developing your passions professionally and personally.

1. What was your first job?

A character performer at Disney World.

2. How did you decided to go cognitive research on marine mammals?

When I was an undergrad, and right after I graduated, I did some animal training internships, and I realized that training might not encompass everything I wanted to do. Research opens another door. Several of the facilities that house marine mammals say that animals under human care should serve as ambassadors to their neighbors in the wild. And I like that. I believe what we learn about animals should be used to make their habitat the best we can.

Wasn’t sure how to get there. One of my professors at BU, a marine bio professor, was the first one to give my interests in marine mammal behavior and cognition a name~ he said I should look into comparative psychology programs, but that there aren’t a lot who offer that per-say, so I was still pretty confused as to what path to take. Then, in a cognitive psychology class, I saw a documentary on Ron Schusterman’s lab at UC Santa Cruise where he preformed sea lion cognition research. I freaked out. This does exist! That was the moment where I learned this was a legitimate career and degree, and I began truly looking into it.

3. How difficult was it to transition from a performer to a research student in experimental psychology? What were your greatest obstacles?

The greatest challenge was that I didn’t have anyone to talk to who had done what I wanted to do. The people around me who were encouraging me were animal trainers, but did not have the degree I wanted and didn’t work with anyone who did. It was difficult for me to make that decision, especially knowing that if you have an advanced degree, sometimes you can no longer be a trainer because it will be ‘too much schooling.’

That’s part of why I took some time to think about my career. I had these different passions pulling me in opposite ways. I loved dancing, and I wanted to say I’d tried it, and then I was ready to move onto something different.

Working at Disney meant that I was still around many people who didn’t have graduate degrees, and it’s definitely easier to have friends with similar background who can be a friend on, not just a social level, but an academic level as well. This became even more apparent as I faced the challenges of being in a southern state that is sort of stuck on some of the gender stereotypes.  Being a well-educated female can be a challenge, and it’s nice to have friends who have encountered similar opposition and can help coach you through it.

4.  What do you consider to be your greatest success post-collegiately?

Making the decision that I was going to pursue my graduate degree. I was happy at Disney, and it’s an easy place to stay. One of the best things I did for myself was walk away- even though I haven’t completely walked away (works seasonally).

I’m fortunate that since leaving, I’ve had so many experiences: classes, diving,  teaching, and working with different animals. I have also been fortunate to work out a way to pursue my career while not giving up the other side of my passion, dance and performing.

In teaching, I have [also] found passion and success. When one student comes up to you, and gets excited about the material you’re covering its so rewarding. One video in a class changed my career path, and you never know what one thing you may say or do that will change things for your students.

5. What is the biggest risk you have ever taken? Do you think it was a positive one?

Dropping my status at my job at Disney. When I started a marine mammal research internship I realized that I had a much different experience than most of the people in the lab had. But, it was a risk that paid off.

I was accepted into grad school and became a part of that lab, after taking my unique path. I didn’t have the typical lab experience my peers did. When I took my first exams I remember thinking, ‘its been 6 years since I’ve taken an exam, and I’ve been dancing on streets and performing.  I hope I remember how to do this!’ But it was very exciting.

6. What are your passions? How do you find a way to incorporate them into your daily life?

Dancing or yoga, or some fitness is really good for me mentally and physically. Something I have learned about myself is that I am not as happy of a person without a dance class. In one fashion or another, I need some sort of creative/active outlet so that I can do that.

I always had a passion for teaching, whether it be academic classes, dance classes, teaching something new to a friend, or just asking somebody, “hey, want to hear about dolphins?” I am an outgoing person, and I put my whole self out there. If I’m enthusiastic about something, I let you know.

Just recently, I was passionate about getting my non-academic life to be happier, and I made the decision to work from Houston. I guess that was a risk. It allowed me to be closer to my family, which is good for my well-being and overall happiness.

7. How do you feel that being a woman has affected your career path?

I am on the girl-ier side for a scientist. I am very outgoing and bubbly; traits that aren’t necessarily associate with being a scientist or being intelligent. I enjoy that I am this way, and I look at it as an opportunity to be a role model for the girls in my classes and dance studio.

The female stereotypes exist. If you look like a girly-girl and tell people, ‘I’m a teacher,’ they automatically assume you are an elementary school teacher as opposed to a PhD in science.

It’s fun that I don’t fit into a stereotype. I sometimes joke that I am the Elle Woods of my field. Although, that’s very far from the truth! I do believe, and want to communicate, that you can you can wear heels and get dressed up and still be a scientist. You can also, despite some stereotypes, be a dancer or performer and be intelligent.

8. What is the most fun experience you have had since graduating from college?

Going to Honduras to do marine mammal research. I got to see a naturally derived dolphin research facility, which was really impressive and unique and I got to scuba dive in the gorgeous reef.

Another amazing experience was when I got to visit Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California, where I made really good friends with some of the incredibly talented trainers who worked with impressive animals. It was also the first time I was able to implement a research project on my own, and that was very exciting.

Being back around animals is a reset button for me. It reminds me why I am doing the research I do, which I don’t get sitting at the computer. It makes me think, ‘oh yeah, I can do this.’

9. Do you have any other words of wisdom that you think could be of value to recent and up-coming college graduates?

Just that your path is not always a straight line- there are zig-zags. Your path may not be the path that someone else took, but it doesn’t make it any less valuable than theirs. Sometimes you’re unique perspectives are what make you stronger professionally. If everyone had the exact same experiences and perspective in science and research, then we wouldn’t progress very far.

Also, always remember that just because you experience something a certain way doesn’t mean that the person next to you is having the same experience. Sometimes someone is doing something and it seems like you should be doing that too. However, a situation that works really well for the person next to you might not work from you.

Remember, not everyone’s path is going to be the same, but its your path and your story. Other people may not see how it’s relevant, but there is always something you took from that experience to get to where you are. For example, being a character performer at Disney helped me to feel really comfortable in front of a crowd, which is great for teaching. In retrospect, you can always pull something positive from your past experiences.

Inpsiring Ladies: Cara Gilman


Full time yoga and spin instructor at Back Bay Yoga, Sweat and Soul, and Sports Club LA

After beginning her career in Human Resources, Cara has recently transitioned into a full time role teaching yoga and spin in studios across Boston, after recognizing her deep passion for inspiring and motivating others to live healthy, fulfilling lives. She has since received many accolades for her work, particularly as an Ambassador for Lululemon Athletica in Chestnut Hill, MA. Cara radiates energy, joy, and beauty inside and out. Her outlook on internal discovery and fulfillment as critical components of a happy, healthy career and lifestyle will be informative and inspiring to many young women today.

1. Describe Your Current Career

I’m a full time yoga and spin instructor teaching at Back Bay Yoga, Sports Club LA and Sweat and Soul Yoga. My career is a reflection of my personal passion of inspiring and motivating others to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

2. When you first graduated from college, what were your primary goals (professional or personal)?

I always knew I wanted to help people, but I didn’t know what that looked like. I started doing informational interviews and during one session I was confronted with the difficult question of what that exactly meant, and, honestly, I didn’t know at the time!
I started working in community affairs at a financial services company and did some inspiring work with local non-profits. However, after a couple years I wanted to expand my role and responsibilities and took a job in Human Resources. After a couple of years I once again grew out of the role and moved to the Marketing department. These job transitions made me realize that I was looking for something in these positions that did not exist. They did not align with my personal passions. As a result, I decided to take a yoga teacher training program and see where things would go.
Before I even graduated the program, I was already teaching and came to the point where teaching yoga and spin was what I looked forward to doing everyday. I kept taking on more classes up until the point where I had to make the decision of whether to stay with my employer or teach. I followed my passion and have never looked back.

3. How challenging was it to pursue your goal? How did you balancing pursuing a new career and still remain practical about finances and other personal responsibilities?

I was in the corporate world for six-and-a-half years. It was a very structured way of life: I worked 8am to 6pm, had benefits, a salary, and everything was very set. And then, [when I transitioned to teaching yoga and cycling] I suddenly had all this flexibility. I had to make my own schedule, and basically create my own business from scratch. What was great, for me, was that I had already begun to build my foundation in teaching while I was still working full-time. My classes were getting a positive reaction, and I was able to make it all work.
I think that’s the biggest struggle anytime you make a major shift: understanding if you are truly ready for the change. Sometimes it’s not just putting the numbers together, and there isn’t a perfect picture of where you’re headed. You need to be ready; and this means you have to have confidence, you have to believe in yourself, and you have to have passion or you’ll be your own biggest weakness. If you’re passionate about something, people will respond and gravitate towards you.

4. What are your greatest passions and how do you find ways to incorporate them into your everyday life?

My passions are people. I love to give. When I’m not teaching I love to help and inspire people to challenge themselves to live the life they want to live. I truly believe that once you live your passions it only explodes from there. I left my full time job only six months ago, and it’s incredible to see how things have grown in this short amount of time. I know it wouldn’t have happened without being authentic and following my passion. I can’t wait to see where this path will take me. Everyday, I continually ask myself what else can I do? I’m really excited by the possibilities.

5. What is your proudest accomplishment thus far?

One accomplishment that really set the path for me was when I ran my first marathon in 2005 in Philadelphia.I was an athlete growing up, but I was always a slow runner. I HATED running. After gaining 30 pounds my freshmen year in college, I knew I had to change my lifestyle. Funny enough, I started running. For the first time, I started to run and work-out just for me not because I had to “be in shape” for sports and I feel in love. My love to running made me crazy enough to want to run a marathon and I took that challenge on my senior year in college.
Finishing my first marathon was something that I never thought I could do..It gave me an incredible sense of confidence where I realized I could do anything I put my mind and passion to. It was a huge growing experience and one I am so thankful for.

6. What has been the most challenging time, event, situation, etc. for you thus far? How did you handle that challenge?

It’s hard to pick one incident in my life but something I always have to remind myself is that it’s important to look at the bigger picture. In corporate world, you’re focused on the next promotion or what not, and in teaching your focused on your classes. Delivering on your short-term goals and tasks is incredibly important but you need a vision and keep your long-term goals in the back of your mind. Sometimes we just try to get through the day. But, ask yourself: what do I want in 5 years? Is what I’m doing today going to serve myself in achieving these goals?
Another important lesson I have learned is that even when you love something so much, you can’t do it all the time. Everyone needs time to reflect, to be calm, and to be still. You can’t be constantly excited, and, sometimes, you need time to just be still with yourself. This time is essential for giving you the fuel to take it to the next level.

7. What, for you, has the most fun and exciting aspect or event of your young professional years?

Being a Lululemon ambassador (as of March, 2013) of the Chestnut Hill store has been an incredible experience. Last March, I was asked to teach yoga at their opening event, the Mala Masquarade. The event was with more than 100 people. The yoga session comprised of a slow flow vinyasa practice to quartet playing classical music and then after 30 minutes transitioned into a hip hop class yoga flow with a hip-hop violinist and a D.J It was so much fun and such a great teaching experience to lead a room with all that energy!
Also, right out of college, I created an employee network at my financial company that focused on creating community within a global company. I had a lot of ideas for the network: I wanted to meet other young professionals, I wanted a running club and I wanted to make this big international company feel more like a small community. A year after the employee network launched, it had over 1,000 members. There were executives on board, I was traveling to speak at events, and a year and half later we had several other chapters launched in 3 other countries. The network changed the culture of the company, and changed my everyday life. It was so fun to learn how to manage communications and people, to speak at events and meet people across the company. Looking back at this experience, it makes sense of why I enjoyed leading and creating the network given how it relates to what I’m doing now.

8. What advice would you give other young professionals?

Sometimes we have a vision for ourselves, and that vision is what we think we should be opposed to the person we want to be. We want to be X or Y and to make this amount of money, and live this specific life, and wear a suit to work, and if we do that then we will be happy and everything will be great. But it’s important to work on yourself and really discover what you want and your passion. Analyze your natural talents, your habits, and your routine. What works and what doesn’t? If [your professional life] is out of line with your lifestyle and your natural talents, you won’t be in love with it and you won’t be successful or find meaning in it. That’s why it’s important to make sure your career aligns with who you truly are.