In the Spotlight – Amy Weisman

Amy with her presentation (and celebration mimosa), holding a wooden box her grandfather received from the American Optometric Association for 50 years of service, given to “the next Dr. Weisman”.

What, when, where did you complete your undergrad degree? 

I graduated from Ohio State in 2014, with a double major in math and physics.

What was your PhD research about? 

My PhD project was automating the detection of disease and extraction of imaging biomarkers from FDG PET/CT images of patients with lymphoma. 

What was your PhD research group? 

I was in Robert Jeraj’s Image Guided Therapy research group.

What was your experience at UW , How did you cope challenges during the research?

I really struggled during my PhD, because on top of the normal difficulties of graduate school I wasn’t always confident that the PhD path was the right one for me. But, I made it through, and am very happy with where I am now. I had a lot of support from my husband Tom, who started his PhD in the UW department of physics at the same time I started in medical physics. I also went on a LOT of walks on Lake Mendota – taking breaks and getting some fresh air was the best cure for my grad student woes!

What was it like defending your work during the safer-at-home order and university shutdown?

It was an extremely surreal experience. I never would have guessed that I would defend my thesis without seeing my labmates in person for an entire month! Having been at home for a month, all of my practices were virtual and I had been able to test the Zoom set-up, which helped me become more comfortable with the virtual format. I learned that recording my practices and watching them back really helped figure out where I wasn’t being clear and where I was spending too much/too little time, which is something that I think would help even for non-virtual defenses. The defense itself was actually pretty enjoyable. Not having to wear shoes was pretty nice, and seeing professors in their homes (including an unexpected visit from Tyler Bradshaw’s 3-year-old son running into the room in his diaper) made it a much less intimidating environment.

How did you celebrate your defense?

Immediately after I left the Zoom meeting, my husband popped a bottle of champagne. Then I spent the rest of the day laying on my couch – I was exhausted! Then a virtual happy hour with my research group.

It’s obviously a really strange time to have anything to celebrate. This is a time any PhD student looks forward to for 5 or more years – and the thought of being able to take a break and travel before stepping into a new role sounded very exciting to me. But, we’re all making adjustments, and obviously being confined to an apartment during a global pandemic isn’t an ideal time to take an employment break. So, I started my postdoc 2 weeks ago, and I hope someday soon I’ll be floating in a lake drinking margs and relaxing with my family!

What are your plans now? 

I started a post-doc position in the Department of Anesthesiology on May 1. My adviser, Dr. Guelay Bilen-Rosas, has been doing an awesome job making me feel like part of the team even though I haven’t officially met the whole team in person!

How long is the post-doc? What are your plans for your future career?

Are “plans for the future” still a thing?! Right now, I’m just taking everything one step at a time. My post-PhD goal has always been to be a research scientist in industry, and I never really entertained the idea of doing a post-doc. I’m incredibly lucky that I had my current position in the works before this pandemic, though, for many reasons. My husband’s PhD will likely be delayed because his lab is shut down, hiring at a large majority of businesses is frozen, and moving during a pandemic sounds stressful! I’m happy to stay put and learn and contribute a lot during my post-doc, and not feel the pressure of thinking about the future too much! 

What advice do you have for your student colleagues?

Don’t be afraid to seek out support in whatever way you need it. If you need to take a day (or more) off to recover and recharge, do it. If you’re not an expert in a certain topic, ask a colleague who is for help. If you’re uncertain about your future and need some advice, ask to get coffee with different people who do what you want to do. Only you know what you need to make things work for you, advocate for yourself!