The Cheeky Scientist

Jennifer Parraga, BA’93

With more than 5,000 members, the Cheeky Scientist Association has become a major force in offering job training, career support and advice for PhD graduates who are launching their careers.

Alumna Cathy Sorbara, PhD, serves as the Chief Operating Officer for the enterprise and is passionate about helping other PhDs remember their value while finding meaningful careers in industry.

The global outfit offers a platform for prospective and new graduates to receive online advice on their resumés and the creation of the perfect Linkedin profile, to learn more about employment options outside of research and how they can build confidence in interview and networking skills. The organization also offers a number of in-person events in the field, hosts a radio show featuring industry guests, shares videos through their YouTube channel, have a blog and ebooks.

Sorbara has been working with the Association for the past two years, and while her role as a COO was not planned for - she couldn’t be happier with where her path has taken her.

After spending a weekend with her sister on campus, Sorbara fell in love with Western University. She wanted nothing more than to follow in her sibling’s footsteps and attend Western. With a passion for science and math she applied to the Bachelor of Medical Sciences program and completed her four-year undergraduate degree. A master’s in biochemistry at the University of Ottawa followed, and for her, the natural next step was a PhD. 

“I just loved doing research,” Sorbara said. “I couldn’t get enough of absorbing as much material as possible, and I wanted to be part of a research environment.” 

With a desire to see the world, Sorbara travelled to Germany pursuing her PhD training in neuroscience at the Technical University of Munich.

Though her passion for research continued, Sorbara found her training experience difficult. Five years later, with her PhD in hand, she began wondering if perhaps academia was not her destination.

After moving to Cambridge, England with her partner, she found herself unemployed and uncertain what to do next.

“I really felt alone,” she said.

She learned about the Cambridge Women in Science and Engineering – an organization for which she is now Chair, to network and learn more about career opportunities. It became her lifeline.

“When I moved to Cambridge, I joined one of their events as a non-member, and they welcomed me with open arms. They were so helpful, offering ideas about people who I could meet with, sharing news about job opportunities and providing support. It was just an amazing and encouraging group of women,” Sorbara said.

Soon after, Sorbara became the publishing editor of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and in time began working with the Cheeky Scientist on a part-time basis, as the Association was establishing itself

It didn’t take long for the Cheeky Scientist to take off, and Sorbara joined the team full time as the COO.

Two years in, and Sorbara continues to find opportunities to develop programs, grow members and make the organization stronger. Her recent experience with Homeward Bound is a prime example.

Sorbara feels fortunate to have participated in Homeward Bound, a 12-month leadership initiative for women in STEM that includes a three-week journey to the Antarctica.

The overall goal of the program is to build a global network of women in STEM and upscale them as leaders, says Sorbara. The program includes lectures, personal and leadership development tools, coaching sessions, visibility training and the opportunity to develop meaningful collaborations – in forums, in teams with a focus on areas of interest, and in small diverse cohorts. For Sorbara it offered a significant opportunity for introspection and discovery to identify what she believed were her best qualities a leader and a communicator.

Sorbara completed her Homeward Bound experience with a 100-day plan, which she is using to achieve goals for Cheeky Scientist and also her personal development. And she feels ever more committed to helping PhD graduates in finding their way through to success.

“I heard a quote from someone while on the journey to Antarctica and it was, ‘comparison is the thief of joy’,” she said. “One of the things I think we do is compare ourselves to other people and see ourselves as not good enough. I think as soon as you stop comparing yourself to others you will do what makes you happy and help you achieve your own vision for your life.”

For Sorbara, that’s what Cheeky Scientist is all about.