Q&A With Alum Karin Eisinger
Spotlight Date:December 21, 2015
Karin Eisinger, a Class of 1998 Communications Arts alum, went on to study Biology at the University of Miami and got her Ph.D in Microbiology from the University of Virginia before becoming a Post Doctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Now an Assistant Professor in the Penn Sarcoma Progam at the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Karin runs her own cancer research lab coming up with new ways to treat sarcoma.
Q: Favorite Dreyfoos (SOA) teachers?
Ancil DeLuz, Sherri Hubbard, Shelly Vana, Geoff Johnston
Q: What is the most profound change you experienced at Dreyfoos (SOA)?
At SOA I learned to problem solve. I learned to think critically in a fast paced environment where the objective was to be creative and still make my deadlines! In my opinion that's the key to success. As a scientist, it doesn't matter how brilliant the idea is if you don't publish it and start a dialogue around it. Managing the intensity of taking a project from inception to publication to changing the perceptions of the scientific community requires a lot of hard work, multi-tasking, creativity, and grit. These are the skills I learned at SOA that changed my worldview.
Q: Is there something Dreyfoos (SOA) could have provided that would have better prepared you for your college and career?
At the time I was graduating there wasn't a lot of emphasis on how to take your skills as a visual artist, writer, actor, dancer, or musician and apply them to other fields. I think students would benefit from seeing that creativity doesn't have to be limited to the studio or the stage. In my professional world success is entirely dependent on an individual's ability to innovate- to change the game. Most people don't realize that it takes an artist to innovate, regardless of the field or profession.
Q: What is your role at the University of Pennsylvania?
I am an Assistant Professor in the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine with an appointment in the Penn Sarcoma Program through the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. I run my own cancer research laboratory. My job is to come up with new ways to to treat sarcoma, a type of cancer that effects nearly 15,000 new people every year. Like many cancers, this tumor can spread to the lungs and is deadly to patients. My job is to work with clinicians and other scientists to stop this cancer from taking any more lives.
Q: How long have you been working in your particular field of research?
I have been a cancer biologist for 12 years. My doctoral research focused on the way that breast cancer cells respond to stress. Cellular stress has always been a theme in my work and it remains so today.
Q: What drew you to study in this field?
That's a complicated question. People who study cancer are frequently driven by the experiences of close friends or family members who have suffered from this disease and I am no exception. I have stayed in this field through all the ups and downs that come with science including funding issues and crazy hours etc., because I love the process of discovery and I'm committed to using science to try and make people's lives better.
Q: Do you feel as though your studies in Communication Arts have benefitted you in your career in science?
My education in Communication Arts is the foundation of the my career. A scientist depends on their communication skills to present their work effectively through publication and through public presentation. The best idea in the world comes to absolutely nothing if it is not communicated effectively to others.
Q: What do you feel has been the highlight of your career so far?
I've had some good moments. It's nice to publish important papers, win awards, and get invited to speak at big meetings. But the truth is that all those aspects of this career are mundane compared to the act of making discoveries. The moments I remember with exhilaration are the ones where it's just me in the lab at 10pm working on an important experiment and I get the data. In that moment I've discovered something new about the way the universe works and I'm the only person in the world who has that knowledge. In that moment, before I run around telling everyone I know what I've learned, it's like it's just me and the universe sharing a secret. There's nothing like it- it's indescribable.
Q: Have you had the opportunity to work with any other Dreyfoos (SOA) alums?
Working with other SOA alums would be great but it hasn't happened yet. I'm aware of one other alum working in biomedical research. I ran into her in the hall at Stanford when I was there for an interview. It would be amazing if more SOA students saw science as a way to combine their intellect and creativity in the professional world.
Q: What recommendations or advice do you have for our current DSOA students?
I would say take the same approach to your future as you have to your craft. Think creatively about it. Your options are limitless if you realize that your skills as an artist are also valuable when applied to fields like science, engineering, business, and academics. All professions need creative critical thinkers. Our goal should be to cross the divide between the arts and the rest of the professional world so that the creative process infuses every aspect of American life and economy.
Q: In a brief statement can you explain “What Dreyfoos (SOA) means to me”?
SOA was where I started to learn what I was really capable of achieving when i applied my skills, work ethic, and focus to a project. Communication Arts taught me to be a driving force in my own life and the lives of others- that it's our job as artists to lead.