When Katya Siddall — a former Army medic and former VP at JPMorgan — entered Northwestern University School of Professional Studies, her goal was to become a doctor. “Northwestern had this really fabulous pre-med program for working adults and I thought it would be a great place for me to prepare for medical school.”
One of the things that attracted her to Northwestern was her desire to be challenged. “I’d studied finance at a state school, and quite frankly, I was bored. So I was looking for a place that was really going to push me.”
The premed program’s organic chemistry class is a perfect example of the push Katya was looking for. “The o-chem professor is notoriously demanding. Some students take organic chemistry over the summer at MIT or Harvard just to avoid him. But I liked that I was doing something that was hard and would make me think. And he turned out to be such an interesting guy.”
But a different class offered a different kind of challenge, one that led Katya to alter her career path. She took Biological Anthropology class as one of her premed electives. “It just blew me out of the water. I had no idea that anthropologists did the kinds of things the instructor was talking about. And I was like, ‘this is science!’ This is coming up with new concepts and figuring out ways to test them. That’s what I enjoyed about it.”
Katya’s newfound passion for the investigative aspects of science soon led her into a research collaboration with anthropology professor Erin Waxenbaum. In 2010, Katya received an Osher Scholarship from SPS and a Foster/FAN grant from the anthropology department to do field work in Kenya with Waxenbaum. Using an Undergraduate Research Degree, Katya also made two trips to the Smithsonian Institution to study the museum’s collection of human pelvises. As part of that research, she developed a technique for using pelvises to determine the gender of human remains, a technique that has both forensic and anthropological applications. She and Professor Waxenbaum have published several articles about their research and made presentations at major anthropological conferences.
Not surprisingly, the study of human history lends itself well to the study of modern men. While she finishes her degree, Katya has been working for a local start-up called Trunk Club, which helps men choose clothing that fits their personal style. The company, whose CEO founded the Bonobos pants company and whose COO started Ebay Motors, has given Katya an opportunity to apply the data analysis and pattern recognition skills she’s honed as an anthropology student to a more commercial venture. “I have skills that nobody at my company has. I can say, ‘Here’s our problem. Here are five possible solutions. Here’s how we can test them. Here are the outcomes we can expect.’ Business schools are starting to teach these skills as part of their MBA programs, but scientists have been applying them ages.”
In fact, Katya sees a lot of parallels between working for a start-up company and being a student at SPS. “Just like a start-up, SPS is very flat. If a student has an idea for a class and can find a professor willing to teach it and some students committed to taking it, the dean would absolutely sign off on that class happening. At SPS, if you take the initiative and work hard for what you want, you will grow very quickly, you'll get to know a lot of people very quickly, and you'll be very successful very quickly.”