Career Ladder: Chloe Poston

This chemist carved a path away from the bench to become an expert on the scientific workforce

by Bethany Halford
June 30, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 27


Summer of science

Credit: Adam Katz
Chloe Poston (center) stands with two colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Chloe Poston likes to say that her career “has been a big experiment.” So perhaps it’s no surprise that it was experimental work—synthesizing salicylic acid—at a science-themed summer camp when she was a high school student that inspired her to pursue a degree in chemistry. “I fell in love with being in the lab,” she says. “I fell in love with the process of chemistry.” Poston studied chemistry as an undergraduate at Clark Atlanta University and then moved to Brown University to do doctoral work using mass spectrometry to study biological molecules.

Student and teacher

While writing her dissertation, Poston taught science in a public school in Providence, R.I., as part of the National Science Foundation Graduate STEM Fellows in K–12 Education Program. “Because I was in a completely different environment, trying to explain biology and chemistry to ninth graders, it forced me to rethink the way I talked about science and to help me think about ways to make science more accessible,” Poston says.

From postdoc to policy wonk

When it was time to graduate, Poston wanted to explore what it was like to focus exclusively on research. She took a postdoctoral position with Eli Lilly & Co. in Indiana. “In industry, when they said work would be from 9 to 5, they really meant 9 to 5,” she says. “I found myself with all this time I was unaccustomed to having.” Encouraged by her postdoc mentor to read broadly, Poston found her interests piqued by science policy, particularly funding for researchers. “When I would start a run on the mass spec, it usually took several hours, and I would spend those hours reading policy papers, so it felt like that was the place where I needed to focus my energy.” During this time, Poston started a blog that would become The Poston Collective, where she and other scholars wrote about the intersection of science, education, politics, and diversity.

Finding purpose in policy

Credit: Steven Laschever

In 2014, Poston was awarded a Science & Technology Policy Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She spent her fellowship working at NSF on broadening participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Today, Poston is associate director of the Leadership Alliance, a national consortium focused on developing and sustaining a diverse research workforce. Her role is to implement the alliance’s strategic vision. She says, “I feel like I’m using everything I’ve learned, and it’s all for a purpose I am passionate about.”


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