Master Scholar returns to the classroom after a decade in biotechnology

June 8, 2016
Paykel hard at work in the lab at Takeda Vaccines, Inc.

 

STEM Scholar, Joanna Paykel, has spent the last ten years working in biotechnology laboratories. In her work, she’s cryopreserved the tissue of beloved family pets; researched animal cloning for the agriculture industry; and now, she is working on the development of vaccines.

While she has enjoyed working on biotech projects over the years, she recently realized she would rather be managing them.

A science lover from the start, Paykel attended Beloit College and received a bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biology. Though she had every intention of pursuing an advanced degree immediately after graduating, she needed a change after senior year after trying to balancing school studies and teacher’s assistant work.

“I thought I’d take a break before grad school, so I went into the private sector,” she said. “But that turned out to be far too comfortable to leave.”

Her first job out of college was at Genetic Savings and Clone, a gene bank company where scientists worked to cryopreserve pet tissue with the intent to create clones in the future. After the company closed its doors in 2006, Paykel worked at a few other biotech firms before landing a job in 2009 with Takeda Vaccines Inc., where she currently researches the development of novel vaccines.

“The main vaccine we’re focused on right now is for Dengue Fever, a mosquito-borne virus most prevalent in developing counties,” she said. “There is also ongoing research into norovirus vaccines and flu vaccines among others.”

Even though she enjoys her work, Paykel said her skillset lends itself more to organizing and supporting lab research rather than doing the research herself. Paykel’s career realization provided the perfect segue into the graduate program she put on hold ten years prior.

Growing up in Platteville, Paykel had always been familiar with the UW-Platteville campus. When she was researching project management programs, she saw that U.S. News and World Report listed UW-Platteville Online as having one of the top 20 project management programs in the country. She said it seemed like the best fit for her.

Paykel began her Master of Science in Project Management degree program in fall 2015, and received an email inviting her to apply to the STEM Scholar Program shortly after. The scholarship program is the result of a partnership between the Distance Learning Center and the National Science Foundation, which provided a $630,410 grant in 2015 to increase access to online master’s degree programs for students in science- and math-related professions.

“It’s pretty exciting,” she said. of receiving the scholarship. “I definitely support the National Science Foundation, and I enjoy being supported by them. I really appreciate the extra effort to support students in STEM fields. Knowing that our types of positions are being valued–it feels good.”

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