Alumni Spotlight: Laura Runyen-Janecky

HeadshotCurrent Employer:

University of Richmond

Job Title:

Professor of Biology

Home Town:

San Antonio, TX

Current Location:

Richmond, VA

Research Topic:

My dissertation research focused on characterizing the vfr gene and its role in the regulation of exotoxin A (ETA) production in the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Faculty Advisor:

Susan West

CMB Degree Received in:


Describe your current position:

I am a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Richmond (UR). UR is a primarily undergraduate institution. I teach undergrads and have an active research program on bacterial symbionts.

Describe your career path from graduate school to your current position.

I completed a postdoc at the University of Texas – Austin (with simultaneous teaching as a sabbatical replacement at Southwestern University for two semesters); then straight to my faculty position at UR.

What made you decide to pursue a PhD with CMB at UW-Madison?

My career goal was to teach at a small primarily undergraduate institution. To do this, I needed a PhD. UW-Madison’s CMB program was broad enough to allow me to explore several different areas of Biology since I was not sure what area of CMB I wanted to focus on for my dissertation work. Also, the faculty and students seemed very supportive and welcoming. This was especially important because I was a first generation college student, navigating very unfamiliar territory as a graduate student.

Describe a “day in the life” of your current job.

Juggling being a teacher-scholar! During the academic semester I teach at 3/2 load (3 classes in one semester, 2 in the other other semester). There are no TAs. At the same time, I have ~4-6 undergraduate students who are working in my research group (no graduate students or postdocs). My research students frequently need help with their experiments. On top of that, I’ll often have meetings related to departmental and institutional committee work. Because I am a senior member of my department, I also spend time mentoring junior faculty. In the summer, I have 4-5 students in my lab full time. I use the summer to catch up on writing, reading (both the biological and pedagogy literature), writing papers, traveling to conferences and to meet with collaborators, and working on grant reporting.

What do you like best and what do you find challenging about your current job?

I like guiding my students to become confident thinkers and scientists and to help them reach their professional and academic goals. I find juggling the workload to be the most challenging part of my job.

What is your best piece of advice for current graduate students preparing for their careers?

Take the time to learn more about possible career options before deciding on one.

What advice would you give to current students who are specifically interested in a career path similar to yours?

Seek out teaching experience (above being a TA) before looking for faculty positions…and read the pedagogy literature!

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