Finding the right career chemistry
By Megan Hayes
Lindsay Sexton began her undergraduate career at the University of South Carolina with plans to attend medical school after graduation. It was not until a professor asked Sexton to help with research and development that she realized she could pursue a career path in chemistry.
“After a few biology classes, I decided medicine wasn't for me,” Sexton says. “I was always good in chemistry and enjoyed it, so I changed my major my sophomore year in college.”
During her junior year, chemistry professor Michael Myrick asked her to help with research in his laboratory.
“I was pretty much set on research and development after that. I really liked the problem-solving aspect of research and the freedom to explore new ideas in the laboratory,” she says. “The professor I worked for and a few of his graduate students encouraged me to go to graduate school for chemistry and pursue a Ph.D.”
Sexton, who graduated in 2003, now works as a senior scientist in Nonproliferation Policy Support at the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, S.C. Her work is focused on nuclear nonproliferation and international safeguards.
Aside from her work in research and development, Sexton credits Carolina with providing her with experiences that helped shape her future career. “I didn't realize until graduate school that writing and public speaking are very important skills in scientific fields,” Sexton says. “You have to be able to communicate your research through writing manuscripts and presenting work to a diverse audience. So the English and other liberal arts classes I took at USC helped me prepare for this unanticipated aspect of my career.”
She also credits her sorority, Chi Omega, for providing opportunities to impact the community. “The philanthropic piece of Chi Omega was very valuable in teaching the importance of social responsibility. Most employers are active in giving back to the community and value employees that will support such efforts.”
Among her accomplishments, Sexton has been awarded two coveted Laboratory Directed Research and Development grants from the U.S. Energy Department. Sexton has taught general chemistry classes at the college level and has been published many times. She is a member of the American Chemical Society and the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, serving in leadership roles in local chapters of both organizations.
Sexton’s advice to students preparing to enter the engineering field is to “seek out opportunities to perform hands-on work, through internships, co-ops, undergraduate research, etc. Not only will such experiences allow you to apply what you are learning in the classroom but they will make you more marketable to potential employers. USC is a great place to go to school. Enjoy your time there, but stay focused and keep in mind the end goal - graduation.”
Undergraduate research is an important part of the UofSC experience. Learn more about it at the Office of Undergraduate Research website.
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