AU Grad Shannon Exley on How to Be a Girlboss

March is Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day falls on March 8th, making the next few days and weeks an important time to celebrate the empowered women around us. Her Campus is a publication focused on the challenges, triumphs, and excitement that women face, and each college chapter is run by and for these determined women. One woman we’re highlighting this week is Shannon Exley, a recent American University grad who worked on Her Campus AU and is already finding success working a job she is passionate about, despite only having graduated within the last year. Her Campus spoke to this Girlboss, learning more of her story and appreciating the advice she had to give.

Her Campus American University: Can you tell us about your time here at AU? What was your major and what were you involved in on campus?

I majored in psychology and minored in education studies and special education, and I was involved in Her Campus starting my sophomore year through through the end of senior year. I worked in the AU psychology department’s child anxiety and related disorders lab, which I am still involved in a little bit; I was on the swim team for four years, and I did a lot through athletics.

HCAU: You work at the National Institutes of Health now; what is your position there?

I do work at the NIH. More specifically I work at the NIMH, which is the National Institutes of Mental health. I’ve only been working there for about a month now, but I am a Postbac Research Fellow, and I am learning a lot about device-based research, which looks at non-invasive devices as treatment for mental health disorders.

HCAU: Was this the position you were hoping to get right out of college, or do you know where you’d eventually like to be?

This is my second job out of college. I was working at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Psychiatry since I graduated in May and was thrilled when I learned about the opportunity to continue psychology-related research at NIMH. I left that job about a month ago to start this current job, and I think this job is definitely a huge privlege to have in my first year out of college. It’s a wonderful position I'm very fortunate to have within the field of medical research and mental health, so I feel very lucky. I do hope to do more research in the future with trauma, and I am hoping to go to graduate school next fall to study that. Getting my Ph.D. is the end goal.

HCAU: We’re focusing on International Women’s Day for this article, so do you have any women that you look up to?

I feel like I could go on and on. Right now I’m super into Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez because she just doesn’t care what anyone thinks; she’s so cool. I like Michelle Obama, and I love Ellen. My boss right now is a woman, and she’s very well-established in our field of brain stimulation research. I think it’s awesome to see a woman high up in a scientific field right now, and I feel like it is an advantage to be working under someone who has done so much in our field of research. I would also generally say that I look up to a lot of the well-established women within my own field of psychology. I think psychology is definitely similar to a lot of other fields where women are still kind of breaking in, but now they are entering in really large numbers. I think that trying to get women into these higher positions of research is inspiring for me to see, and it’s very exciting to have female mentors.

HCAU: Do you have any advice for people in school now on how to become successful?

I would say be proactive: network with people and search through Linkedin for opportunities. Also, talk to professors who have jobs in the field that you want to go into, and when you apply to places express how you’re interested in the job and are looking to speak to people in order to learn more about it. Don’t expect your dream position to fall into your lap, but also if you do get into a job and end up disliking it, don’t settle for something you are not happy with. I think you should definitely follow your heart and your gut in what you need, and be sure to search for women who have come before you and ask for their advice on how to break into these fields that you want to get into.

All Images Credit to Shannon Exley