Jeremy Waen ’06 On a Sustainable Path

Two days ago a group of Reed faculty got together to discuss how we could do more to help our students succeed after graduation. A widely shared concern was the “Graduate School or Bust!” mentality that seems to dominate student thinking. A few hours later I found myself chatting with Jeremy Waen ’06, the chemistry department’s invited seminar speaker. As Jeremy sketched his story for me, and then expanded on it later during his seminar (“From Thinking Small to Acting Big: One Reedie’s Atypical Career Path in an Era of Climate Change and Trumped-Up Politics”), I experienced first-hand the student dilemma that my colleagues had been talking about.

For those who wonder where a Reed chemistry degree might lead, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • it would be a wild exaggeration to say every Reed chemist goes to graduate school in science or engineering. Although Reed College was ranked #4 nationally (behind Caltech, Harvey Mudd, and MIT) in the most recent NSF survey of undergraduate source schools for recipients of advanced degrees in science & engineering (S&E), Reed’s overall “institutional yield ratio” was just 14%. This figure is somewhat misleading because it compares the number of advanced S&E degrees to the total number of B.A. degrees granted by the institution so Reed’s “yield” would rise by at least a factor of 2 or 3 had only Reed science degrees been counted, but the essential point remains: your Reed education is whatever you want to make of it. Recent chemistry graduates have reported all kinds of adventures to us including graduate school, school teaching, beer brewing, legal and health professions, Peace Corps, private enterprise (ranging from large software companies to the neighborhood bike shop), political activism, and stay-at-home parenting,
  • but even with all of that post-Reed diversity in mind, there is no denying that graduate school is the Pole Star of campus “life beyond Reed” conversations even if graduate school isn’t the ultimate destination for most students,
  • and, to reiterate what we tell students in our Open House sessions for incoming students: graduate school is “free” in the sciences. Yes, you may have to attend graduate school for 4-7 years to earn a Ph.D., but you won’t be paying tuition during that time (and well over 90% of science graduate students receive living wage stipends while in graduate school).

A recommendation: one of our students’ most important resources when thinking about life beyond Reed is the campus Center for Life Beyond Reed. Check it out.

Now let’s return to Jeremy’s story… like many a Reed chemist, Jeremy thought that a science research internship would be the perfect interlude between his junior and senior years so he entered the SURF program at Caltech in summer ’05 and worked at the nearby Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a project related to exploration of Mars … although he briefly considered chemistry graduate school after graduation in 2006, he didn’t feel ready so he worked for a period as a research intern at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California … during this time he saw the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” and this planted the idea that he should work in an area related to climate change and sustainability … his next job took him to a Bay area electrochemistry company (Applied Intellectual Capital) … and over a period of months he discovered that while he still thought of himself as a scientist, he felt ready to consider career paths outside the lab so he enrolled in the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco where he earned a master’s degree in public administration … and, finally, he was ready to join his passion for sustainability with his advanced degree in public administration, and he joined the team at a (then) small north Bay start-up, Marin Clean Energy (MCE), in 2012.

Jeremy’s story is an engaging one, filled with plot turns, surprises (you’ll have to ask Jeremy about his trip to southern Africa), and periods of reflection. Faculty, as well as students, were captivated during the seminar by Jeremy’s experiences during his first decade of “life beyond Reed.”

If you have a story you would like to share with our readers, send it my way. I’d love to hear from you. (

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