One of my favorite questions to ask the women we interview is, “What is the strangest job you have ever had or the strangest task you have done at a job?” It is rarely a problem for our interviewees to answer this question, since the clinical, scientific, and tech realms are full of bizarre encounters and responsibilities. However, Cori’s response is one of my favorites—she is a “rat runner”. Once a week, her daily routine includes prepping and supervising sixteen rats running on two human treadmills for an hour. And, Cori shares this task with her labmates. These rats run five days a week!
No, the rats are not training for a marathon or this fall’s Tough Mudder. Cori works in Dr. Lou Soslowsky’s lab at Penn, studying the structure and function of the rotator cuff. Surprisingly enough, rats have a similar shoulder structure to humans and thus are helpful in understanding the mechanism of orthopaedic overuse injuries. Cori is trying to understand what will happen if someone sustains a rotator cuff tear and then does not have it repaired. Will it affect the surrounding tissues and is there a method clinicians can use to relieve pain while avoiding the use of addictive pain medications?
Obviously, we want to know what Cori plans to do with this diverse knowledge of clinical orthopaedics and bioengineering. When we press Cori about her future plans, she says she doesn’t have her heart set on one specific direction, but she knows she wants to stay clinically focused in her research. She tells us that being uncertain about her future is one of her greatest challenges recently. “It’s really hard for me-- I’m moving down this path and have no clue what I want to do at the end of it. For me that is very unsettling. The biggest challenge is being okay with that. I know I like what I’m doing and I’m doing something I’m interested in, so that can’t be a bad thing.”
I’m moving down this path and have no clue what I want to do at the end of it. For me that is very unsettling. The biggest challenge is being okay with that. I know I like what I’m doing and I’m doing something I’m interested in, so that can’t be a bad thing.”
Cori’s other interest has always been art, which also seems to run in the family. Her sister, mother, and grandmother are all talented artists. Even today, Cori tells us that she loves to set up an easel and paint in her apartment (being careful to not spill paint on the hardwood floors!). Cori even gave us a few photographs of her work, which accompany this article. The paintings are stunning—Cori is seriously talented. Growing up, Cori always wanted to be like her older sister, now an architect. However, Cori says science has always been “her own thing,” unique from her sister’s interests. She decided to attend the University of Maryland and studied bioengineering, coming to Penn in 2011 to do her PhD in the Soslowsky Lab.
It’s the rule of three, if you mess up three things horribly you stop and go home, if you can.”
As we near the end of the interview, we ask Cori what advice she would give to the kids she is mentoring. “If you enjoy something, take the time to learn more about it. I feel like everyone does their best when they are doing something they enjoy.” Referencing Sheryl Sandburg’s book Lean In, she tells us that she likes the analogy that a career is a jungle gym, not a ladder. You don’t have to be worried all the time about where you are going. As long as you are interested in something, pursue it! You aren’t stuck in a straight line.
We really like this advice. After all, who didn’t like playing on the jungle gym at recess? It was just plain fun.