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Molly Downing, Scientist and Educator

Molly Downing, Scientist and Educator
Molly Downing, Scientist and Educator sabbystyle


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Name: Molly Downing

Profession: Scientist and Educator

Title: Clinical Instructor College of Pharmacy. The Ohio State University

Education: B.S. Pharmaceutical Sciences, Purdue University, 2005/ Ph.D. Pharmacology, Vanderbilt University, 2010

I was born and raised in central Indiana. In high school, my mom encouraged me to take a career/personality test to help assist me with selecting a major and career to pursue in college. The test matched my personality with professionals working as pharmacologists in a pharmaceutical company. Essentially, a pharmacologist is a scientist that conducts basic science research to discover new drugs. The career seemed interesting, so I decided to attend Purdue University and pursue a Bachelors of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences. While at Purdue, I learned that this career path would require me to earn an advanced degree—a Ph.D. in a basic science field, which I could earn by attending graduate school following college. While at Purdue, I conducted basic science research, engaged in extracurricular activities, and worked hard to perform at a high level in my classes. During my senior year, I applied to graduate school programs in Pharmacology (the science of how drugs work in the body). I graduated from Purdue in May 2005, and entered graduate school at Vanderbilt University that fall. As I noted earlier, after the first semester of graduate school, I wasn’t sure if a career path as a pharmacologist working in a pharmaceutical company was for me. Through exploring different career paths and engaging in different educational activities for K-12 audiences, I quickly realized that my passion was not rooted at the lab bench, but in the classroom. I decided to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship in pharmacology education and outreach at Ohio State University. A postdoc is similar to a residency for a doctor—it provides an opportunity for scientists to develop a real expertise in a specific field. I graduated from Vanderbilt with my Ph.D. in Pharmacology in May 2010, and started my postdoc a week later in the College of Pharmacy at Ohio State. During my postdoctoral fellowship, my mentor, Dr. Nicole Kwiek, provided incredible support and an enormous amount of creative freedom for me to teach and engage in a variety of science outreach activities. Two years into my fellowship, Dr. Kwiek was given the opportunity to operate a research lab at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) through a partnership between COSI and Ohio State. Dr. Kwiek appointed me as the Assistant Director of this lab, the “Generation Rx Lab”. The Generation Rx Lab is a drug education research lab where COSI guests conduct hands-on experiments related to the science of drug action. Our educational programs aim to improve science learning, build interest in STEM- related careers, and increase understanding of key medication safety principles in the general public and K-12 audiences. I completed my postdoctoral fellowship during summer 2014, and I accepted a Clinical Instructor position in the College of Pharmacy at Ohio State, where I remain the Assistant Director of the Generation Rx Lab. I feel like I have finally found my “niche” and my passion through teaching science and medication safety principles in informal learning settings. And, I get to spend most of my time working at COSI—who wouldn’t want to do that ?

HOW DID YOU MAKE  IT HAPPEN ? I didn’t do it alone—I received tremendous support from my family, along with several incredibly supportive and bright mentors. I think self-discipline, a strong work ethic, and a positive attitude goes far—it helped me keep my eye on the “big picture” and persevere through difficult days.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: My first semester of graduate school was very difficult. Looking back, my pre-existing expectations for graduate school quickly collided with my reality. I felt as if I didn’t fit in; as though I wasn’t good enough or smart enough to successfully complete the program. I entered graduate school because I thought I wanted to conduct drug discovery research at a pharmaceutical company.  But by the end of the first semester, I wasn’t sure if that career truly embodied my passion. I knew the subject matter remained incredibly interesting, but I felt unsure if that specific career path was for me. Before second semester began, I seriously considered quitting the program. But then I told myself, “Okay, the subject matter you’re studying is still incredibly interesting to you. Is graduate school more difficult than what you imagined?  Oh my goodness yes. Are you confident that you still want to conduct drug discovery research?  No, but there must be other career paths that I can pursue that will incorporate my interest in pharmacology and desire to help others.”  So, I decided to complete the program and give it everything I had—entering each day with a positive attitude and giving 100 percent. The average time to graduation in my program was 5.5 years, so, in the spirit of “looking on the bright side”, I decided that I had five solid years to identify a new career path.

WHO IS YOUR ROLE MODEL? My family is definitely filled with strong women. My grandmother was one of the first women to graduate from pharmacy school at Purdue University.  Her courage and strong work ethic were passed-on to my mom and aunt, who both exhibit these traits.  They both definitely exert a “can-do” attitude in their personal and professional lives. Very early into my adolescence, I felt that my mom really tried to foster this “can-do” attitude and a sense of independence into both my sister and I. She taught me how to take charge of my individual career path, always encouraging and supporting me to pursue a career that I was passionate about, and one that would allow me to become financially independent and support myself.

VISION FOR YOUR FUTURE: During the course of my 20s, my faith really strengthened and became an integral part of my life. I try to reflect and consider the plan that God has for me and my family.  And while I do not know for sure what His plan is, I do know the desires of my heart. I would love to continue my work in science education and outreach and implement creative, innovative approaches for increasing the number of young students (especially girls) to pursue STEM-related careers. I also feel very passionate about educating our youth about the dangers and consequences from misusing drugs and alcohol.  I would love to work with educators within the next 10 years to incorporate more effective drug prevention strategies into K-12 curriculum. Lastly, my husband and I have a little 18-month old boy, who has brought us so much joy and has made life so much fun. We definitely have desires to expand our family in the immediate future.



I think I would share with young women three key pieces of advice.  First, always give and do your best, regardless of the job or task.  People recognize and respect a strong work ethic, and it demonstrates that you respect yourself.  From mundane tasks such as cleaning, to completing more challenging assignments, always give 110 percent. You never know who is watching, and what doors and opportunities will become available as a result. Second, take initiative and approach accomplishing your dreams with a “can-do” attitude.  It’s rare for dreams to be realized by someone else directing your path or doing the work for you. Don’t wait for things to fall in your lap—take initiative, bring a positive attitude and have confidence that you can realize your dreams. Lastly, surround yourself with positive people who will support you.  Beyond my incredibly supportive family, I’ve been fortunate to have several incredible mentors at each point in my educational path. Don’t feel as if you need to experience this journey alone, reach out to family, friends, teachers, coaches and organizational leaders for support.


For any young lady interested in science, the educational pathway to becoming a scientist is definitely challenging—but definitely worth it. There are so many different career paths you can pursue as a scientist, all of which are extremely rewarding and satisfying. During your education, you are obviously conducting scientific research on a daily basis.  In graduate school, it was easy to feel discouraged or to feel like a failure if an experiment didn’t work or a hypothesis was proven wrong. But very early on into my graduate training, I decided to adjust my attitude and not consider these setbacks as “failures”, but instead as “mini lessons”. If an experiment didn’t work, why didn’t it work?  What could I learn from this setback and how could I apply it to future experiments to improve their outcome?  As I walked home each day, I always tried to reflect on the day and identify those “mini lessons”.  Even though I completed graduate school five years ago, I still find myself incorporating this attitude into my personal and professional life. So I would encourage young ladies not to allow the inevitable challenges of conducting scientific research (or life for that matter) to discourage you and make you feel like a failure—learn from those failures and treat them as lessons, not as setbacks.  In addition, don’t allow the notion that careers in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) are just for boys—this is a completely dated thought!  Do many men occupy careers in these fields?  Yes, but so what!  Women work as executives for Fortune 500 companies, run for president of the United States and serve on the most prestigious court in our country. We can be successful scientists and engineers too!


Take advantage of your youth—engage in activities outside of your comfort zone, explore the world and don’t be afraid to fail. Through these interactions, you’ll identify your passion. Once you’ve identified it, don’t be afraid of what others think. Pursue your passion with everything you have—it will help bring about the best version of yourself.

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