Realizing your potential workshop

May 31, 2024
Dr. Marquita Qualls leads workshop on career development

The 2024 JCC Annual Symposium included a “Realizing Your Potential Workshop” led by Dr. Marquita Qualls of Entropia Consulting. Dr. Qualls made four main points that she wanted JCC Fellows to focus on to realize their potential:

  • Define or be defined! (Passion, Purpose, Profession)
  • Know your value, know your worth
  • Ask for … help, advice, support, tips, assistance, and guidance
  • Network to build your network


The workshop explored these career development topics and featured insight from four panelists who provided real life examples of how these concepts had played out in their vocational journey:

  • Peter Covitz, Executive Director at Alexion Pharmaceuticals, 1994 JCC Fellow
  • Nels Elde, HHMI Investigator and Professor at the University of Utah, JCC Scientific Advisor
  • Rachel Mitton-Fry, Associate Professor at Denison University, 2004 JCC Fellow
  • Anita Pepper, JCC Executive Director


The panel for the realizing your potential workshop.


Define or be defined!

Dr. Qualls stressed that you have to define yourself, otherwise by default the people and circumstances around you will do the defining. She argues that one needs to be introspective, honest, and realistic about their passion, purpose, and profession.

In small group discussions JCC Fellows discussed their passion, purpose, and profession. At our table the discussion included:

  • Basic research (as compared to translational research)
  • Hands on research at the bench
  • Studying the diversity of life through non-model organisms


Know your value, know your worth

At this point in the talk Dr. Qualls pointed out that everyone in the room was a PhD-trained scientist, yet we all have different strengths and interests. She pointed out that we need to be aware of what additional skills we have that set us apart in today’s workforce, and intentionally cultivate such skills.

Amongst the panel Dr. Pepper pointed out that she enjoys and excels at writing and presenting. Dr. Elde runs This Week in Evolution, a podcast that helps him stay up to date on a broad range of science and helps him combat his shyness. Dr. Mitton-Fry enjoys working directly with students in the classroom and in the lab, and her strength of empathy helps her sort through issues with students and help them figure out how to keep moving forward. Dr. Covitz’s strength is in spotting expertise and talent in other scientists, and this enables him to build teams and support them.

Dr. Qualls stated that even if it’s not in the lab, you still have a skillset that is needed elsewhere in society. In her previous career, she leveraged her people skill set to transition from the lab to the financial side of her company where she translated the science to important decision makers who lacked scientific backgrounds.

In terms of hobbies outside of lab, Dr. Elde and Dr. Pepper enjoy gardening, Dr. Mitton-Fry is learning Spanish, and Dr. Covitz makes homemade bread. Fellows shared a variety of activities including hiking, skiing, singing, playing guitar, making art, barre pilates, basketball, cooking, and writing science fiction.


Ask for … help, advice, support, tips, assistance, and guidance

In this section Dr. Qualls stressed the importance of asking for help, and how doing so is often transformative in our career trajectories. She then asked the panel about where they find it difficult to ask for help.

Dr. Covitz shared that asking how to deal with the aftermath of a failed project and admitting defeat in a particular approach is hardest for him. For Dr. Mitton-Fry, asking for something out of the ordinary is hard, but she notes that every time she has asked for this she has gotten something life changing. She tries to keep in mind that other people are going to ask for the same things, regardless of whether she asks or not. Contrastingly, Dr. Elde finds it hard to ask for something ordinary, like getting help with a rough draft or practice talk when it is still a work in progress.

Dr. Pepper noted that she has heard from Fellows about situations where they are nervous to ask JCC for help and wanted to stress that you should always ask for help! If they can help in your situation they will, but even if they cannot there will be no punitive action or anything like that just for asking. Dr. Covitz built on this by saying that you should consider reaching out for help and advice to always be a part of your career not matter how far you advance.


Network to build your network

Throughout the panel discussion it was noted how academic positions are actually the alternative career path in terms of where most PhDs end up. With this reality in mind, Dr. Qualls stressed the importance of networking broadly and being aware of other career possibilities.

With that in mind, Dr. Qualls and Dr. Covitz offered to connect with JCC Fellows on LinkedIn. Additionally, you can search through JCC’s connections on LinkedIn and Twitter to help connect with former Fellows and Scientific Advisors.