Maja Johnson ’13: Starting a Career at the Mayo Clinic

Posted on April 28th, 2014 by

Maja Johnson '13 at the Mayo Clinic.

Maja Johnson ’13 at the Mayo Clinic.

When it comes to desirable companies to work for in Southern Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic would have to be near or at the top of any such list. Recent Gustavus graduate Maja Johnson ’13 was able to land her first job out of college at the Mayo as she is currently employed as a research technologist in the department of human integrative physiology.

“Early in the second semester of my senior year, my advisor, Dr. Karla Marz, told me about a position at the Mayo Clinic. With further help from Dr. Jeff Dahlseid, I was able to contact the lab I now work in and submit an application,” Johnson said. “I am very fortunate to have ended up where I am. The experience, work relationships and mentoring I have received have solidified my desire to be in the field. In addition, I have the opportunity to investigate where I would like to be as I continue my career.”

Johnson’s path to the Mayo Clinic started early in her freshman year at Gustavus when she took an introductory chemistry class taught by Dr. Amanda Nienow. The two got to know each other through class meetings, lab time, and visits during office hours and that led to Johnson working with Nienow on research in her laboratory. Johnson worked with Nienow during her sophomore year and then utilized a Gustavus Presidential Faculty/Student Collaboration Grant to continue to conduct research during the summer between her sophomore and junior years.

“I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to do scientific research for my coursework and at the extracurricular level,” Johnson said. “I studied the pesticide Imazamethabenz-methyl and how quickly the chemical is broken down in water by sunlight. During January Term of my junior year, I was able to continue that work full-time. This experience gave me a unique opportunity to combine knowledge from several disciplines including chemistry, physics, and mathematics and sparked an interest to pursue research further.”

Johnson considers her close relationship with Nienow as well as other professors across campus as one of the top reasons why she would recommend Gustavus to any high school student making their college choice.

“When I am asked about the strengths of Gustavus, I always point to the engaging faculty. I was so fortunate to have professors who provoked curiosity, encouraged me to pursue interests, and allowed me to ask questions. In addition, they took the time to get to know me as a person,” Johnson said. “Dr. Nienow’s passion in the classroom and the lab was infectious and made me want to explore and learn more. Dr. Karla Marz led me to courses that fueled my interests and encouraged me to explore new opportunities, such as studying abroad. I also always loved chatting with Dr. Mary Gaebler (religion) in the Courtyard Café about current events, campus life, and big questions.”

Johnson on graduation day in 2013.

Johnson on graduation day in 2013.

While Johnson’s studies at Gustavus focused on science and research, she found herself rounding out her education in a variety of academic departments, which led to new passions and interests.

“Academic and campus life at Gustavus continually broadened my mind and challenged me to push past what I knew. As a first-year student, I was a bit narrow minded and thought I knew what I wanted to spend my time doing. Gustavus’ liberal arts curriculum brought surprising subjects and unforeseen opportunities,” Johnson said. “I discovered new interests in psychology, Buddhism, and art history. I even completed a religion minor simply because I loved the classes so much.”

Johnson kept busy outside of the classroom during her time at Gustavus as well. She served as a Gustavus Ambassador and a Gustie Greeter. She participated in the Crossroads Program, was a member of the Pre-Med Club and Tri-Beta, and sang with the Lucia Singers. She volunteered in the Emergency Department at a hospital in Mankato, studied abroad in Italy during January Term, worked as a Peer Mentor for the Biology and Chemistry Departments, and as a tour guide for the Admission Office.

Johnson says that all of those experiences helped her to develop interpersonal communication skills, which are coming in handy as she works as part of a large research group consisting of medical doctors, post-doctoral research fellows, graduate students, nurses, study coordinators, and research technologists.

“The research projects in our lab involve human subjects so during a typical study day I may be with the subject for several hours performing lab procedures and monitoring both the person and the results,” Johnson said. “Several of the studies I work on examine cardiovascular regulation and the autonomic nervous system. When I’m not with a subject in a study, I assist in analyzing the data from the studies, run statistical analysis, and help the primary investigators prepare tables, charts, and graphs.”

A quick reflection on Johnson’s path shows that she was able to take advantage of everything Gustavus has to offer and do it in four years. She developed close relationships with faculty mentors, challenged herself in the classroom and laboratory, joined a number of student organizations and made lifelong friends, took advantage of the College’s liberal arts curriculum, studied abroad, and when it was all said and done she left the hill with a desirable job in her chosen field.

“As I make my way into “the real world” now, I feel fortunate to have a well-rounded background. As I live in Rochester and work at the Mayo Clinic, I encounter people of various cultures, backgrounds, philosophies, and understandings,” Johnson said. “My education at Gustavus exposed me to a variety of ways of thinking, being, and doing. This gives me confidence to share life in a more full way.”


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