The difficulties of pursuing doctorates and being true to yourself

Photo by Matthew Wikfors

Chizoba Nwankwo, executive director of outcomes research in the Center for Observational and Real-world Evidence at Merck & Co., Inc, Switzerland, spoke to students about her experiences as a female leader in health services and the job opportunities available in the field on Nov. 10. 

The event was held over Webex and was the first talk in a speaker series about women leadership roles in the health sciences industry, a program facilitated by Associate Communication Arts professor Satarupa Dasgupta.

“When I was in school graduating with my biology degree, I realized there’s no job called 'biology,'” Nwankwo said. She explained that students should look for opportunities available to them based on their “authentic voice,” a notion she referred to multiple times during the talk.

“Know your story, live it boldly,” she said, referring to what she called the tagline for her life. It was one of the major pieces of advice she had for students and involved one’s own authentic voice. 

Nwankwo’s voice came from the perspective of both a woman and an immigrant. She came to the U.S. from Nigeria to attend college. It was her “first experience being black anywhere” since race was not a factor for her in Nigeria. She explained that contexts might limit the information a person receives, like what to do for medical school. 

“If you asked me what the process was to get to medical school, I didn’t know,” she said.

Nwankwo gave another important piece of advice to students through this particular part of her story: don’t let your doubts limit yourself.

“Take yourself out of the equation,” she said. She was worried about being a token hire or worried they made a mistake and that she is undeserving of the role, also known as imposter syndrome. “Nobody gives you a position if you are not able to deliver,” she said.

There was a clear emphasis on not having all the answers when starting out a position or when promoted to a leadership role. She said that it is “okay to be willing to ask questions to people and be willing to not know things.” Prospective workers should surround themselves with a group of diverse voices who can provide answers and guidance.

She told attendees that they should learn to take feedback and adapt to it, but to “never lose your voice.” Workers should leave room for others to speak and bring their voices to the table. People can amplify stories, she said, so it is important to create that space as a leader.

A final piece of advice she gave attendees was to be careful about how they show up and present themselves. Impressions are important in the workforce, especially in positions of leadership.

“You don’t want to be the person remembered for bad behavior,” Nwankwo said, “but you also don’t want to be the person that everyone forgets is at the meeting. You need to speak up and be true to who you are.”