Working Warriors: Kayleigh Coombs ’20 Secures Role at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center

Kayleigh Coombs ’20, recent graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, knows how to leverage her knowledge, skills and internships to land a full-time position while navigating a pandemic. With prior experience working at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center in 2019 as a Research Assistant Scribe in the Neuro-Oncology Research Lab, Coombs landed her first full-time role as an Associate Clinical Research Coordinator at Dartmouth-Hitchcock this summer.

Q: We are so excited to learn more about landing your full-time role at Dartmouth-Hitchcock! Thank you for your time today. To start off, can you talk about the process of finding and applying for your job?

A: The process of applying for a job or internship can be overwhelming at times and that is why the O’Brien Center [for Career Development] is so helpful. I had developed a great relationship with my career advisor, Laura Thibodeau [Assistant Director of Career Advising, School of Science & Engineering], over the years and that made all of the difference. She helped me draft emails to prospective employers, prepare for career fairs, teach me how to best market myself, update and maintain my LinkedIn account, prepare for interviews and help me navigate the job market.

I highly recommend getting at least one if not more internships during the summer or short term over winter break. I wish I started earlier with my career development and applied for internships as early as my sophomore year. My first internship was the summer going into my senior year at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in one of the neuro-oncology research labs. Having that experience alongside faculty directed research at Merrimack, I was able to reference those experiences during my interview process for my current position. The more experience you have to put on your resume and connections you create while interning will set you apart from your peers and other applicants.

Q: We couldn’t agree more. For many students and recent graduates, securing experience during COVID-19 has been incredibly difficult. Can you explain how you stay motivated to find a position? Do you feel you had to do anything different in order to secure a job?

A: As a graduating senior this past spring I became very concerned when COVID-19 hit as companies started to freeze their hiring process and it didn’t seem like the best time to enter into the job market. I stayed motivated and determined in my job search as I knew sending out applications was more productive than panicking if I didn’t land a job after graduating. I stayed in contact with not only my career advisor but also one of my mentors from the Internship Institute, Katherine Wilkins [Internship & Co-Op Specialist]. They both helped me stay on track to landing a job by highlighting new job postings, preparing cover letters and emails to best market myself in a time of uncertainty in the job market and search.

Q: Well your optimism and determination certainly paid off. Although you’ve just recently begun working at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, can you explain what you will be doing in this role?

A: I have been assigned to the neuro-oncology, early phase, and the GI disease groups. I am currently still in-training but I am learning so much about the role and responsibility of coordinating clinical trials at the Cancer Center here at Dartmouth. I have already learned in my short time in this position that there is always an opportunity to learn something new and further my education, such as attending the disease group tumor boards.

Q: Continuing to learn is a great way to develop new passions, interests, and even new skills! Speaking of skills, are there any that stand out to you that you think set you apart in the job hunting process?

A: Some skills I have developed at Merrimack and discovered through the Gallup CliftonStrengths Assessment are positivity, responsibility, communication, arranger [arranging multiple elements to come to a conclusive decision] and adaptability. These skills translated into my strong ability to network that have helped me create connections with alumni, peers and employer representatives. In my position now it is so important to maintain a direct line of communication between my coworkers. When we work together as a team, we end up being more successful in not only our Department of Clinical Research but also the Cancer Center as a whole.

Q: It sounds like the skills you’ve developed certainly helped you land this position. How was Merrimack College in-general able to prepare you? 

A: The O’Brien Center and all the resources it has to offer their students were especially helpful. I highly recommend as a student you take full advantage of what the O’Brien Center has to offer you! Schedule as many appointments with your career advisor as possible, as your four years at Merrimack will fly by. Each and every appointment I had with my career advisor I gained and learned something new from that experience. It could be something as simple as navigating LinkedIn and how to best advertise yourself to future employers. Laura [Thibodeau] also helped me navigate how to properly write and format a cover letter to then carefully read the description of the job and identify the skills that will make you the most marketable for that position.

Q: Music to our ears to hear you talk about the importance of career development early-on in your time at Merrimack. With that, is there any additional advice you have for Merrimack students with regards to career development, interviewing or applying for positions?

A: I have probably mentioned it once or twice already but third times the charm right?! Network network, network, and take advantage of the opportunities the O’Brien Center provides for us students. They are there as a resource and want to help us navigate the “real world” to the best of our ability. The more resources, knowledge and skills you can gain during your time as an undergraduate student will only help you in the long run. Making the commitment to further educate and develop yourself professionally will require you to make the time in your schedule. Prioritize your attendance at these events and schedule those appointments with your career advisor as your future self will thank you.

Are you ready to secure an internship or employment for the fall and beyond? The O’Brien Center for Career Development is here to help you! Visit Handshake today to search for open opportunities, meet with your career advisor, and more.

By Ashley Archangelo
Ashley Archangelo Events & Operations Specialist Ashley Archangelo