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LVC Experience Leads to HIV/AIDS Research Career: A Q&A with Jennifer Northcott '05
03.26.14 |

As a high school basketball standout, Jennifer Northcott ’05 was recruited by a lot of schools, including LVC. But once she stepped onto the Valley campus, she knew her decision was made. “I came for an overnight visit and went to a basketball game in Lynch,” she says. “It had that small gym feel that I really liked. I’d been up and down the East Coast and the South and Midwest looking at other schools, but this was the school that felt like home for me.”

Northcott majored in psychology/psychobiology and made a name for herself on the women’s basketball team, where she still holds program records for blocks and rebounds. She found her professional calling through challenging courses paired with an internship at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center where she assisted with animal research projects. After graduation, she went to work performing clinical research trials for Barr Pharmaceuticals, Inc., now Teva Pharmaceuticals. Eventually, she transferred to Merck, where today she works as a scientific engagement and clinical research specialist overseeing more than 100 clinical and pre-clinical trials relating to HIV/AIDS.

How did you acquire your competitive spirit?
My family is very competitive, in a very supportive way. We have the desire to always get better and push each other to succeed. LVC made a difference too. Wherever you have that close-knit community, you have that competitiveness because you know everyone in your class. But being competitive is something I was born into.

What motivates you?
The desire to succeed. I want to succeed in every aspect of my life—whether by being the best person I can be, being the best friend I can be, making good decisions, or making my boss look good because that’s going to allow me to be successful and continue my progress. I don’t know if there’s a single thing that motivates me other than the desire to always do my best.

What activities, people, or courses at LVC helped you prepare for success?
The number one thing that really prepared me for the outside world was “Vertebrate Physiology,” with Dr. Dale Erskine [chair and professor of biology]. It was a six-hour study session every night just to pass the exams! There are certain courses that you excel at, and then you hit this one that’s mentally and physically taxing, and it draws you in because you want to overcome it and not fail. That course motivated me to go a little bit deeper and try a little bit harder. Even now, when I do a Cross-Fit workout and there are things I think I can’t overcome, I look back and think I can do it. It’s about making incremental milestones in order to attain your end goals.

Also at Lebanon Valley, you have a support network that you’re not going to get everywhere. Every student struggles, but at LVC you can go into a professor’s office and get picked up and put back on your path. It’s definitely something I’ve taken with me and I still keep in touch with a couple of my professors. I’m really grateful for the many people, professors/emeriti, teammates, and friends that helped guide me to the success I’m having now.

How has global competition changed your field?
In order to stay relevant, you have to constantly stay up to date with the leading research. When the president changes the direction the NIH is going, for instance, we have to keep on top of the new focus and plan to meet the changing needs. You have to be dynamic and fluid in order to stay relevant and be where the market is, so that we can help people.

What’s most important to remain competitive in your field?
The number one thing is to constantly be reading and learning about the changes going on in the research. In HIV, every single day investigators are coming up with different ideas about treatment/cure options and how various groups of people respond to different medications.

How do you prepare physically and mentally for competition?
I want to stay mentally and physically strong so my body and mind can do what I demand of them. Cross-Fit fills a void that was left when I stopped playing competitive basketball. Some of my greatest memories from Lebanon Valley include my basketball teammates, but this allows me to keep pushing my body to the edge and making it perform in a way that it hasn’t been used to in quite some time.

What is your favorite book about competition?
“Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence,” by Gary Mac and David Casstevens. There are various short snippets about competition and how to mentally prepare for it, setting up a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. I’d definitely recommend it.

Who is your favorite competitive role model?
It’s always going to be the top women physical athletes, and professionally, the most intellectual women in my field. My role models are women who are breaking the typical gender roles and succeeding physically and mentally. It’s very motivating and empowering to think that if they can do it, I can do it too.

Do you have a guiding philosophy about competition?
The number one thing that I strive for is to compete with integrity, so that I’m competing on a level that makes me better. That’s my guiding philosophy: Be the best I can be while helping other people become better, not worse.

Which leaders inspire you? Why?
I try not to have one person that I want to aspire to because every day there is someone new doing something amazing. For instance, how the Pope is breaking down barriers and showing people through his actions that you have to be compassionate and kind to all people is very humbling and motivating for me.

What makes LVC competitive?
Being a liberal arts college, Lebanon Valley allows you to evaluate your strengths and then utilize that knowledge to specialize in the direction you want in your junior and senior year. LVC has amazing professors and emeritus faculty who are knowledgeable, and they are passionate about what they do, their students, and learning. My parents used to say it takes a village to raise a child, and that’s what Lebanon Valley offers. It has a community feel, where you’re held accountable for your actions and where people are there to support your growth.

What advice would you give to current LVC students?
Take advantage of the opportunities that are available. Allow yourself to broaden your horizons, because when you go out in the world you’re going to meet a whole variety of people. Having a liberal arts background and the ability to communicate with a lot of different people is useful.

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