Jane Revollo has had many influential science mentors in her life, but her first arrived long before she ever set foot in a classroom. "My dad was a physicist," she explains. "I grew up with science, and even [tagged along] at his conferences."
Years later, a pair of exceptional high school teachers—one in biology and one in chemistry—convinced her that science was her future. She loved how science explained the inner workings of almost anything she could imagine, and even the things that were too small to see.
Revollo was a top student, and in some ways, her path seemed straightforward. She earned a degree in biology from Duke, and planned to earn a Ph.D. immunology from Washington University in St. Louis. She was in the midst of studying T cell activation linked to asthma when she realized that she wasn't cut out for bench work. "In [real] science, 90 percent of what you do fails, and that can be very frustrating," she admits. "I needed more instant gratification."
It turned out that the inspiration for change was in the pharmacogenomics lab right next door, which was run by Howard McLeod. He explained to Revollo that if she earned a Pharm.D. instead of a Ph.D., the degree could open up new possibilities for her and perhaps serve as a bridge between the pure science she was doing and clinical work she was interested in. She was convinced, and she began working in his lab on research linking specific genes to the effectiveness of cancer drugs. The work represents one of the first steps in creating cancer therapies that are as customized to individual patients as a tailored suit. When McLeod went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to become director of the Institute for Pharmacogenomics and Individualized Therapy, she followed, which is where she ultimately earned her Pharm.D.
Now, in her first year of her pharmacy residency at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, she's excited for the chance to work closely with patients and doctors. When she goes on hospital rounds, she makes sure that patients get appropriate doses of the right medicines, and she serves as a resource for physicians and nurses. "I get to have an impact on patient care on a day-to-day basis, and I really see the effects of what I'm doing," she says.
While it took her years to determine the right course of action for herself, she advises others to take a shortcut: connect with people in many different scientific fields to find out what their work is really like. "Most [scientists] are willing to talk to someone who is interested in their career," she says. "Sometimes, what people do on a day-to-day basis is much different than what you might think it is. The more you know about something, the better prepared you'll be to make a good decision." A scientist in the field can also suggest other career paths that might be a good fit.
Over time, she says, people gravitate to careers that are a good fit for their interests. "My work is a great middle ground," she says. "I understand the science of how drugs work, and I'm also [directly] involved in helping people get better."