As part of our on-going Alumni in the Field series, where alumni reflect on their career paths and how their Amherst experience shaped their lives, Catherine Brownstein ’97 discusses how her liberal arts education at Amherst College prepared her for a profession that didn't even exist when she started her undergraduate work.

Amherst Alumni in the Field: Catherine Brownstein '97

September 18, 2017

“My job didn’t exist when I graduated from Amherst. It didn’t exist when I graduated with my Ph.D. But I was able to find it and succeed because Amherst taught me how to adapt, think critically, and carve out a place for myself.”

Video Transcript

Amherst College teaches you how to think. I firmly believe it doesn't matter what you major in and what you focus on, as long as you love it and have fascinating discussions in class and basically learn how to learn.

My job didn't exist when I graduated from Amherst, it didn't exist when I graduated from my PhD, but I was able to find it and succeed in it because Amherst taught me how to adapt, to think critically and to carve out an area for myself.

My name is Catherine Bronstein. I'm class of 1997. I graduated from Amherst with a degree in Psychology and Interdisciplinary, where I made my own major on Evolutionary Biology. I am the Scientific Director of the Manton Center for Orphan Disease Research and I work at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

In the lab, I have a staff three brilliant women, who actually do the bulk of the experiments, but they run the results by me. Every day is different. Analyzing data, getting new data in, figuring out what experiments need to be done next and reviewing information on new patients that are coming in the door. I love this job and I feel so lucky to work here.

I applied to go back for a PhD in Public Health and the professor I applied to work with got denied tenure, but he was cross-listed with Genetics so he put over my application. I fell into human genetics, into gene discovery, loved every second of it, and I feel very lucky. The timing of it was amazing. It was like the Wild West. All of these patients were just waiting to be sequenced, their genes waiting to be discovered, and so we had a lot of very good successes very early.

From there, we built a reputation and being at a tertiary hospital, we got very interesting patients from all over the world. A lot of them agreed to participate in research knowing that chances are it's not going to help them. That anything they donate to our program is going to help patients five, ten, twenty years from now. But yet they still do it because they want to make the world a better place. And everyone who I work with genuinely wants to make the world a better place.