November 2013 Articles

Do Anything

GSAS alumnae/i find career satisfaction in unexpected opportunities and the road less taken.

By Nancy Schmucker

Alexis Castor

Alexis Castor

On November 9, Bryn Mawr graduate students received career advice and networked with a distinguished panel of graduate alumnae/i at the second-annual Graduate Career Symposium, a collaborative effort by the Graduate Student Association, the graduate schools, and the Career and Professional Development Office. Events included a luncheon at which students were able to dine with alums from their respective disciplines and panel discussions, moderated by Cindy Howes ’73 (former interim alumnae and graduate career counselor), titled “Life at Bryn Mawr as Preparation for an Academic Career” and “How to Become a Rising Star.” The Bulletin caught up with a few GSAS alumnae/i panelists to talk about the directions their postgraduate lives have taken. Though their backgrounds and interests are diverse, what is common is their willingness to embrace unexpected opportunities and to forge their own paths.

Interim Dean of Graduate Studies Sharon Burgmayer says that the reasons for BMC graduate alums to be particularly successful when confronted with the unexpected are found in several themes that emerged during the Career Symposium. “The small environment nurtures a high level of trust between graduate mentor and student, empowering the student to take on independent work,” she explains, “and the rigor of scholarly work throughout every aspect of graduate studies becomes the internal standard that the graduate student uses to gauge the quality of their work.”

Alexis Castor, M.A. ’94, Ph.D. ’99, associate professor of Classics at Franklin & Marshall College, still marvels at how even seemingly tangential relationships can lead to opportunities. In 1999, Castor was simultaneously finishing her dissertation, teaching two courses at The George Washington University, and working as a research associate at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art. The teaching and research positions were the result, respectively, of an ongoing relationship with her former GWU advisor and a recommendation by a fellow panelist at a conference she attended earlier that year.

“I was overworked, unsure, and anxious, and I am grateful that the class evaluations have been destroyed,” Castor jokes. But, she adds, “I learned a lot and am very grateful for the experiences.”

Daniel P. Wisniewski

Daniel P. Wisniewski

Brother Daniel P. Wisniewski, O.S.F.S., Ph.D.’10, assistant professor of mathematics and chair of the Department of Mathematics/Computer Science at DeSales University, found a way to make a career out of two seemingly disparate interests—pursuing a religious life and teaching mathematics. DeSales University is administered by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and Wisniewski began his training to become an Oblate brother as an undergraduate mathematics major. He honed his skills as a mathematics educator by teaching at a high school in Philadelphia, and later as a mathematics Ph.D. student at Bryn Mawr. He credits the mathematics professors, especially those for whom he was a teaching assistant, at the College with inspiring him and uses some of their teaching methods in his classroom today.

Mary Rourke, M.A. ’95, Ph.D. ’98, spoke about twists and turns in the path to her current position as assistant professor and director of school psychology at Widener University. She spent only one semester in Vanderbilt’s clinical developmental psychology program before taking a five-year hiatus from education.

“[Vanderbilt] just wasn’t the right program for me,” she says. “Plus, I needed to earn some money and be an adult in the world … time to grow up.

She returned to pursue graduate studies at the urging of one of her undergraduate advisors—this time at Bryn Mawr. After earning her Ph.D., Rourke interned at the

Mary Rourke

Mary Rourke

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The opportunity ultimately became a twelve-year career at CHOP, during which she served as the director of Psychosocial Services in Oncology and as associate director of the Behavioral Health Integrated Program, an inpatient consultation-liaison program. Eventually changes in behavioral healthcare along with juggling family responsibilities motivated another career shift—to academia. At Widener, Rourke oversees the school psychology program, participates in the child and adolescent development program, and studies child and family development, adjustment to chronic illnesses and other life stressors, family therapy, and school psychology.

“I’d like to think I would have come back but was getting stuck,” says Rourke of her decision to take a break from her graduate studies. “It would have been very easy to stay on that path, and I am grateful to my college advisor for giving me the ‘kick’ I needed. I left Bryn Mawr prepared to do pretty much anything.”


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