Kaela Varberg loves to make connections. But though she’s willing to allocate time and energy toward establishing professional relationships, finding networking opportunities as a trainee in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math, medicine) has not always been easy.

“In scientific training, great emphasis is often placed on learning technical skills and developing an individual project. As a trainee in science, it can feel difficult to step away from the comfort of the research bench and immerse yourself in networking opportunities outside of the lab.”

As a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Kaela is part of a larger research team that is studying placental biology and DOHaD (developmental origins of health and disease), a field where researchers are trying to understand how events that occur during fetal development may have long-term health outcomes. Her work is important to research related to pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia—for which there currently is no cure and limited treatment options.

In addition to the professional development benefits of working closely within a research team, Kaela recognizes the value of moving beyond the silo of her research environment to engage with professionals outside of the lab.

The Importance of Making Connections

Not only does Kaela understand the value of networking, but she is willing to build frameworks for it when opportunities aren’t readily available. It was with that spirit of collaboration (and a dose of humor) that she helped found KC RiBS, a networking group for researchers in biomedical science (or RiBS) in Kansas City.

Prior to KC RiBS, Kaela helped start another punny group: NetworkIN, as a graduate student at Indiana University School of Medicine. Like KC RiBS, NetworkIN was developed to provide opportunities for graduate students to connect with industry professionals to learn about the wide variety of jobs and careers available to individuals with degrees in science.

Words of Wisdom

If Kaela could offer her younger self some words of wisdom, she would tell her to keep an open mind about her career.

There’s often a perceived pressure to stay the course in order to establish a reputation or to keep leveling up. This can be particularly true for those developing a research niche among field experts, a pressure that only intensifies as they advance in their training or specialize in a specific field. Perseverance can be a valuable trait for achieving success, but it can also lead to career tunnel vision.

“Keep an open mind! Do some career exploration!” Kaela says.

If you have the opportunity to slow down and explore the breadth of career opportunities in your field before zeroing in on a single career path, take it!

Why Central Exchange

Her introduction to CX was through a connection at BioKansas, an organization that leads efforts to support bioscience in Kansas. She first attended an informal networking session over breakfast, and she has since discovered a rich experience filled with diverse programming and exceptional women. And a nice change of environment from her typical research-related conversations and project-focused interactions.

“It’s definitely a unique networking opportunity—especially for scientists,” she says.

Kaela is grateful for the Central Exchange community primarily for its diversity: She says it can be all too easy for scientists and others in STEMM fields to become so focused on their specialties or on their own projects that they miss opportunities for collaboration—or don’t see the need for it at all.

We are grateful that Kaela has joined our Central Exchange community, and we hope that you, too, will participate in the conversation and help us in connecting Kansas City. We invite you to be our guest at one of Central Exchange’s many upcoming programs and events (virtually or in person)!