Member Spotlight

Cynthia Hurlbert

Technical Writer
National Cancer Institute, NIH (Contractor)
AWIS member since 2022


“My goal is to help bridge the gap between the scientific community and the greater population.”

Headshot of Cynthia Hurlbert who is wearing cat-eye-shaped glasses and has short pink hair.

What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned the hard way?

That just because you are right, doesn’t mean you are worth listening to. That is to say, the delivery of the message matters. I can be right to the moon and back, but if people aren’t actively listening, I haven’t accomplished anything.

What do you consider to be your most important career achievement or milestone?

One of the moments that stands out to me most is when I was tutoring a young lady in math. She had to pass the end of course state testing, and she was struggling badly, despite the remedial classes she was offered by the school system. Passing this test was required for her to get her diploma, and she had already taken the test 10 times when I first began working with her. While she did eventually pass the test, the most significant moments for me were working backwards from the skill she was supposed to be mastering to find the earlier gaps in her learning. Once we clarified the underlying concepts, she was very adept at the subject, which is why she was able to pass the test after working on it for a few months. She just needed someone to take the time to figure out which planks in the bridge she was missing and teach her those essential lessons.

What do you aspire to accomplish in your career and why? What obstacles will you overcome?

My goal is to help bridge the gap between the scientific community and the greater population. I feel that those of us who have been working on that leadership lesson I talked about above need to step up and help the larger global community interact and understand the scientific achievements that are made and their significance to the population as a whole. I expect to face a lot of misinformation, reluctance to learn, and resistance to challenging personal beliefs. I also expect pushback because of the growing anti-science push in some communities. However, I plan to overcome these by approaching groups with insight into their perspective and what the issues look like with their level of understanding. I want to create community led learning that benefits society.

How has AWIS helped you professionally and/or personally?

AWIS had provided me with a community of individuals with varied experiences sharing similar goals. I have felt empowered to reach out for opportunities I normally would have shied away from and find new and exciting ways to grow. I have also made friends who can relate to experiences that I have had or am having. AWIS also helped me narrow down what direction I felt I needed to focus on to achieve the goals I have set for myself.

What is your favorite word?

; (semicolon)

How do you define it?

A semicolon is a reminder that just because one thought has concluded, the sentence doesn’t have to end. It is a reminder to me that my story isn’t over; I have more to do and see and share and be. It reminds me to keep looking for the next clause in the sentence; there is always some way forward. It allows for the progression of concepts to be linked but not necessarily interdependent.

How has this word influenced or inspired your career?

I think there have been several points up till now that have seemed like they were the end of my opportunities to move forward in the scientific community. For a while, I disappeared from the community altogether. But I find that I have been incredibly lucky to always have found a chance to change what seemed to be a period into a semicolon and move in a direction that may not be linear, but it is forward for me.

What are you currently reading or listening to?

I am reading A Lab of One’s Own: One Woman’s Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science by Rita Colwell for AWIS DC’s next book club.

What do you consider the best professional or personal advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t listen to the people who give unhelpful criticism designed to bring you down. Listen to the people who offer you constructive criticism to lift you up.

Cynthia Hurlbert is a technical writer with the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) where she assists with the publication process, as well as coordinating laboratory events, large and small. She has previously worked as a private tutor in the Greater Washington DC area. She holds two bachelor of science degrees in neuroscience and microbiology from Furman University and Clemson University, respectively. She continued her educational opportunities at Uniformed Services University, studying Schistosoma spp. Cynthia is involved in science communication and education and has pursued her passion for the subject both formally and informally.

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