Where can a graduate degree from the University of Illinois take you? In this series, we catch up with one recent Graduate College alum and ask the question: “Where are they now?”.
Irisbel Guzman Sanchez graduated from the University of Illinois in 2015 with a PhD in Biochemistry. After graduation, she became a Presidential Management Fellow which led to a full-time position in Health Informatics for the United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). She is currently a Health Science Specialist for the VA New England Healthcare System, where she analyzes data and develops new tools for decision-makers to better understand operational healthcare databases and analyses.
What are some of your main job responsibilities, and what does a normal day or week look like for you?
I normally meet with senior leadership and work with them to develop new data reports, analyses and tools to help them manage and make decisions that improve the quality of the healthcare provided to veterans. During a normal week, I will have several meetings and develop drafts of tools as well as provide reports and analysis.
What is the most interesting, rewarding, and/or challenging aspect of your job?
The most interesting aspect of my job is meeting leaders and learning from them as well as the type of data I work with. It is very rewarding to know that I am helping to provide better healthcare for veterans.
I am curious about the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) experience you had directly following your Ph.D. Would you be willing to share what that experience was like as you transitioned from graduate student to a professional at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs?
I was able to manage my transition from graduate school to the VA because I was a Presidential Management Fellow. Thus, I had the opportunity to take several trainings and find projects in which I was able to transfer my skills from graduate school. I highly recommend graduate students in the science fields that are looking to transfer their scientific skills out of the sciences to apply to fellowships similar to the PMF such as Pathways Fellowships offered by the Office of Personnel Management.
What has been the most valuable transferable skill you gained from graduate school?
For the type of work I am currently doing, the most valuable transferable skills are data analysis and critical thinking. Also, being able to network and work collaboratively.
What is one piece of advice you would give to graduate students at Illinois?
My main piece of advice is to take advantage of the certificates available for graduate students such as Business Administration, and to engage in the seminars that the Graduate College offers. These will give them the opportunity to explore different career paths of academia.
This interview was conducted by Mike Firmand, Assistant Director for Employer Outreach in the Graduate College. He works with employers to connect University of Illinois graduate students to new opportunities and promote the value of graduate education. He previously worked for the College of Business at Illinois State University and has held positions in insurance, marketing, banking, and retail and event management. Mike holds a B.S. in Recreation, Sport and Tourism from the University of Illinois and an M.S. in Communication from Illinois State University.