Undergraduate Experience VIMS

Lessons from W&M Last a Lifetime

By Erin Spencer ’14

I got an email this week from a freshman at my graduate alma mater. “Ms. Spencer”, it began “can I ask about decisions you made in your early career that helped you get where you are now?”  

“I’m still early career!” I thought to myself. I’m happy to chat about my experience, but it kind of feels like a child leading a slightly-younger child. It feels strange giving advice when there is still so much I don’t know myself.

But the truth is, with my 10-year alumni reunion far closer than I would like, I’m rapidly leaving the “early career” phase into the “should have my act together by now” phase. I feel like I’m getting there: I worked in DC at National Geographic and Ocean Conservancy (and had many brunches on 14th St with W&M alums), then I got my Masters in Ecology from UNC – Chapel Hill where I studied fisheries management and seafood mislabeling. In between I led research projects from Florida to Fiji and accumulated more freelance writing jobs than I can count. Now, I’m pursuing my PhD in Biology in Miami, where I put data collecting devices on great hammerhead sharks. In theory, at least, I should have something to offer to a college student looking to start in the field of marine science.

Our conversation was perfectly nice. She came prepared with well-research questions about how to start in marine science, the importance of internships vs. research experiences, how to get into graduate school, and more. I shared what I could, qualifying each rambling answer with “I hope that’s helpful!”.

Later, as I thought about our chat, one thing stood out: Almost all of my advice came from lessons I learned at William and Mary. Despite two other alma maters and four previous employers, my best guidance came from my experiences as an undergrad.

When she asked me about how I got my first job at National Geographic, I talked about how I first got an internship there through the W&M DC Summer Institutes, and how the Career Center helped me build my resume for my dream job. When she asked about how to get research funding, I talked about how the Cohen Center gave me my first grant, which was then matched by National Geographic after seeing the project had initial funding. When she asked how to get research experience, I talked about how I worked at VIMS counting Antarctic plankton, which led to my first peer-reviewed publication and helped me get into my Master’s program.

As cliché as it sounds, the most important things I learned at William and Mary aren’t on my resume. I learned that I don’t have to pigeon-hole myself to one field; I can pursue multiple interests and weave them together into a fulfilling career. It’s because of this that I split my time between working on my PhD studying sharks, and writing children’s books on the ocean (shameless plug—the first of which is coming out in March 2022!).

I learned to pull as I climb, and that there is always room for empathy in your field. I will forever be grateful to my professors—especially women—who gave me advice and countless letters of recommendation, and simply led by example.

I learned that no one can tell you the right path—you need to make that choice for yourself. William and Mary was a safe place for me to try new things, to extend myself beyond my comfort zone, and learn my limits. I’ve carried these lessons throughout my career, and am grateful to William and Mary for giving me the confidence to trust myself.

My early career path has been circuitous, and full of hard work, luck, and good timing. William and Mary gave me the degree, research experiences, and internships I needed to start in my career. But more than that, it gave me the lessons in compassion, collaboration, and confidence I needed to thrive. Sharing those experiences with the next generation was an important reminder that I will forever be grateful to William and Mary and a proud member of the Tribe.

Follow along with Erin’s work on Twitter, Instagram, and her website and connect with her on LinkedIn.

Health & Wellness

Your Best Running Friend

By Chloe Rosen ’11

Hi, my name is Chloe Rosen, the runner formerly known as Chloe Lewis (class of ‘11, woo woo!). At William and Mary, I was lucky to spend the best four years of my life making the closest friends, taking thrilling classes, performing at PBK, and learning that I liked grits, especially with cheese. I also learned that I loved running. 

So, you’re probably reading this like, oh yeah, I sort of remember her (or maybe you don’t at all, which is totally fine), didn’t she give tours or something? Yes, yes, I did. But that’s not the point. The point is learning to love running at W&M changed my life and put me on a trajectory towards the career I have now. But more on that later. 

Here are the spark notes: (which I never used in college, honor code, people!) In my sophomore year, I began running in earnest with a Timex watch that just told the time, an iPod mini loaded up with a lot of punk rock. My favorite route was from Bryan down Richmond road to the turn for the back way to the gym and then to Bryan through campus. I had no idea how long it was, but I always felt like an olympian every time I ran it. 

Fast forward to 2017. I’ve graduated with my master’s degree in telling fart jokes for a living, and I have run a handful of half marathons, 10ks, 5ks, and even a triathlon. I even have, wait for it, running friends. 

In 2018 I decided to run my first marathon. Training for a marathon is like having a full-time job on top of your full-time job. So, while I trained a lot of the time with friends, I also ran for hours, and hours, and…hours by myself. I started to write jokes about what was happening to me during marathon training—the chafing, the hunger, the lost toenails, you know, all the real glamorous stuff. 

Then one day, shortly after successfully running the Chicago Marathon, I was joking with a running friend of mine, and he asked me what I did with all the jokes I wrote in my head while I ran. To be honest, I wasn’t doing a lot with them at the time, and it seemed like maybe I should. So one thing led to another, and the Instagram account, Your Best Running Friend, was born. 

Your Best Running Friend (@yourbestrunningfriend) started as an account to put the jokes and characters I wrote in my head on the run. It was an amalgamation of the “every runner,” it was as far away from me personally as you could get. But then, in the absolute dumpster fire year 2020, I realized as auditions ground to a halt, I desperately needed a place to be creative, an outlet that was more about me and my running experiences, something a bit more personal. 

So, two years and a ton of jokes and personal insights later, this crazy journey has allowed me to make over 12,000 new online friends (WHAT?) and partner with incredible brands like La Joie Skin Care, Coros, and Goodr, to name a few. I feel so lucky that I followed what started as an excellent way to clear my head and feel unstoppable in college turned into a way to be creative daily, push me out of my comfort zone, meet new people, and find my voice. 

And look, I am by no means a “good” runner (what even is a good runner, anyway?) I run because I love it, I don’t pay attention to my time, and I will probably never win a race. But if you’re scared to do something, I urge you to step up to the starting line and race towards your dreams. I did, and you can run towards them too. 

Follow along with Chloe on Instagram, connect with her on LinkedIn, and support her Etsy shop.