Aubrey Paris ’15, Ph.D.
Q&A with Aubrey R. Paris ’15, Ph.D.
How is winning an Ursinus Alumni Award significant for you personally and professionally?
Everything I am doing in my life today can be tied in some way to my experience at Ursinus, which instilled in me a strong passion for exploring interdisciplinarity in both my personal and professional lives. Receiving an Ursinus Alumni Award is not only an honor; it is validation that I am applying the lessons and perspectives I gained from my time at Ursinus in meaningful ways. Examples of those lessons include the value of interdisciplinarity in making informed, holistic decisions (which is quite relevant to my position as a U.S. foreign policy advisor), as well as the power of using creative mediums to advance meaningful societal conversations (which is a goal of my personal project, “National Treasure Hunt”).
How did Ursinus College instill a desire to serve your community?
My experience as an inaugural fellow of the Parlee Center for Science and the Common Good (CSCG) taught me that being an ethical, thoughtful scientist means looking for inspiration and being cognizant of impact beyond the lab. Through discussion sessions, lecture events, and courses, the Parlee CSCG fellowship convinced me that science (my longtime subject of choice) loses some of its significance if it cannot be translated in ways that benefit society. It was because of this experience that I chose to pursue a career in civil service and science policy after receiving my Ph.D. in chemistry and materials science; I thought I could be one of the people who helped to ensure science is applied in ethical ways that are helpful to communities.
Why has giving back to Ursinus been important to you?
It did not take me long after my Ursinus graduation to learn that the experiences afforded to me as an Ursinus student were extremely uncommon for undergraduates around the country. Opportunities such as being a Parlee CSCG fellow, competing in Ursinus’ first entrepreneurial competition, participating in research as early as freshman year, serving as a teaching assistant, and working in the Office of Admissions (all at the same time, no less) would be difficult to find at many liberal arts institutions, let alone large universities. These experiences are what led me to a renowned Ph.D. program and, later, prepared me for my current career. It is critical that current and future Ursinus students have these (and even more) transformative opportunities, and I want to do my part in ensuring that’s possible.
What was your proudest UC moment?
My proudest UC moment was winning first prize in the 2014 U-Innovate! competition, the first-ever entrepreneurial business plan and pitch competition hosted by the U-Imagine Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies. My teammates and I were encouraged by Dr. Kelly Sorensen to submit a project we had developed for his biomedical ethics class, and we soon found ourselves (three science majors) competing against students whose academic backgrounds had theoretically prepared them far better for an entrepreneurial event. Winning that competition during junior year was my first tangible proof of what I had long suspected: that Ursinus was giving me all the tools I would ever need to succeed in any pursuit I would choose in life. Although my teammates and I did not develop our project further after winning the competition, I still apply lessons learned from the experience in my life today. This is especially true for “National Treasure Hunt,” the podcast, book, and tour that I co-created and operate with my former Ursinus roommate.
What advice do you have for students and fellow young alumni on how to persevere in a challenging job market and economy?
I have two pieces of advice, based on my own experiences, for Ursinus students and young alumni. First, it is critical to cultivate hobbies and side projects that excite you, and it is equally critical to make time for them. This has been the most meaningful way I’ve learned to protect my mental health in challenging work situations, and sometimes these projects can even lead to unexpectedly thrilling opportunities (like interviewing Catherine Zeta-Jones on the red carpet!). Secondly, our generation is living and working in an era characterized by change. You are no longer expected to choose one career and stick with it for the rest of your life (if you don’t want to). If you have multiple passions, you can pursue them all at different stages of your career. All it takes is the confidence that you have been prepared (in large part by your Ursinus education) to tackle any opportunity or challenge that comes your way.