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Francesca Bernardi is a Dean’s Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Mathematics at Florida State University. Her research focuses on modeling filtering systems for municipal wastewater facilities. She received her PhD in Mathematics in 2018 from UNC, in addition to a Graduate Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies. She joined the leadership of 500 Women Scientists in 2018 and is the co-founder of Girls Talk Math, a free Math camp for female and gender non-conforming high school students.

1. Tell us a little more about the work you are currently engaged in. What are your main job responsibilities?

As a Dean’s Postdoctoral Scholar, my job merges my interests in teaching and research. I teach two sections of Calculus II every semester and work on applied mathematics research with undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty.

2. Please share a brief overview of your career trajectory. What steps did you take after graduating from UNC to end up where you are now?

I graduated from UNC in the summer of 2018 and moved to Tallahassee to start my position as a Dean’s Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Mathematics at Florida State University. I have been at FSU for two years. I will start a tenure track faculty position in the Department of Mathematics at the Worcester Polytechnic institute in Fall 2020.

3. What professional development resources and programs did you use or participate in while at UNC and how did these benefit you?

I took advantage of many of the professional development opportunities offered by the Graduate School. This is one of the aspects of my graduate career that I loved the most. UNC gave me a number of amazing opportunities to grow not only in my research but as an instructor, as a professional, and as an individual. I participated in every workshop offered by the Graduate School for job searching – this included workshops and information sessions on things like writing CVs, cover letters, and teaching statements, as well as interviewing, networking, the Three Minute Thesis competition, etc. I found the PITAP program to be crucial for my development as an instructor. I learned a lot about expectations in the US classroom and started to develop my own teaching philosophy.

4. What steps did you take when you were still a graduate student to prepare yourself for the job market/your industry?

Taking part in all the available professional development workshops offered by the Graduate School was a first step. I started preparing my documents early (in my fourth year) so that when I went on the job market in my fifth year I had a solid application. I asked people I trust to give me feedback. I thought long and hard about whom to ask for reference letters and went out of my way to have a diverse pool of writers. I worked on marketing myself by getting business cards and using them at conferences, building a website that would stand out, and creating a professional online presence. I asked for advice from many different people with varied experiences and entered the job market with a clear idea of what I wanted so that I could aggressively pursue the opportunities that best fit me.

5. What skills/competencies did you acquire in graduate school that you apply in your job today or that have helped you progress in your career?

Working at UNC in a Mathematics Department while performing physical experiments in the Fluids Lab taught me how to tackle complex problems from a variety of perspectives. I take advantage of this skill every day in both research and teaching. I also had to learn how to stay organized, focused, and on task in the whirlwind that is graduate school. I have always wanted to do more than just research and branch out to other fields and interests, so being organized is the only way that I can manage all these different activities productively.

6. In what ways did being an international student impact your professional development needs when you were in graduate school at UNC?

As an international student I felt I lacked basic knowledge of the US university system, what is expected from postdocs and faculty, how teaching is organized, etc. So I took advantage of programs offered by the Graduate School (and others) both geared to the general population and specifically to international students. This allowed me to learn a lot about how things work in higher education in the US and gave me a leg up when I entered the job market.

7. What advice would you offer current graduate students about professional development in general or career advice for your industry/position specifically?

What changed everything for me was to read the e-mails sent out by UNC offices and programs. A place like UNC offers tons of opportunities but most people don’t know about them because they don’t read their e-mails. So step one is reading e-mails and step two is applying to ALL the opportunities of interest. It requires planning and commitment because applying to things takes time, but it is absolutely worth it.

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