An Interview with Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations Julie Koh

I am so excited to introduce you to today's bitch! I met Julie back in the early days of Pancake Run and Book Swap, circa 2009-2010. I was a beginner-runner and entering into a group of women who had Ironmans and marathons under their belts. I was intimidated, self-conscious and getting a lot of advice on how to get better and faster, and Julie was like, "Have fun!"

Julie walks through life with her eyes and heart wide open. She seeks out and injects fun into her life way more than you'd expect of someone so professionally accomplished. You can have a 30 second phone conversation with her and she will have laughed through 20 seconds of it, while also giving you precise instructions on how to perform a task. Julie is responsible for turning me into a triathlete, and for keeping me slightly less neurotic while doing so. Meet today's bitch, Julie "Hot Koh Koh" Koh!

What is your job title and where do you work?

I work as the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

Through my volunteer work with Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. As a member of Team in Training, I learned that fundraising was necessary for non-profit organizations.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

When I was a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt, I started doing informational interviews with anybody who had a doctorate and had pursued careers away from traditional research in the laboratory. I met with patent lawyers, clinical trials officers, leaders at foundations and corporations. Someone suggested I meet with a development professional and I had no idea what that was, but I went on the interview anyway. My resume got passed along, and I was invited to meet with the new Vice-Chancellor for medical development at Vanderbilt. What I thought was another informational interview ended up becoming a job interview. Randy (my future boss) outlined the need for a professional who could work with Vanderbilt scientists and develop proposals to foundations to fund critical research. I was immediately hooked and so excited I sent him a follow-up email with my ideas and a business plan the very next day. I had no idea that I had this capability until this one chance meeting sparked all this creativity. 

Almost two years ago, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute came knocking (actually Randy was the one who recommended me for the job), and I moved to Boston to work in Corporate and Foundation Relations. The work is incredibly exciting because the science and research here fires every single geeky neuron in my body. The vision for how medical research is about to evolve and how instrumental Dana-Farber is in this new world inspires me every day. I have officially drunk the kool-aid, y'all!!!

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

You can’t change what happens to you  -  only how you react to it. I think I realized this in my teens and it probably is a personality indicator of why I became a scientist. It continues to guide me and I am always relearning it.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

The dream of having my own laboratory and teaching students is something that propelled me for a long time until I realized it wasn’t compatible with how I wanted to live my daily life. I love to work but I don’t live to do it. I want to play with friends, experience new things, and spend time with loved ones. It was hard to give up the dream of my own lab, and I was scared that it was the only thing I was good at…. Until I turned it on its head and tried to find other ways I can apply my skills.

In so many ways and at different times in my life, I could have been the perfect first-generation, American-born Korean girl who followed a prescribed life and career path with predictable outcomes. I completely failed at that and could not be happier. I know that with all its flaws my life is completely mine because I looked for it and chose it. 

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

I just got a new puppy, Guiness, who I am completely obsessed with. I have him on puppy cam so I can watch him sleep while I am at work. So I would definitely spend more time with him. Otherwise, I would say reading, but who am I kidding… I would watch TV.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

That I leaped to a completely different career successfully.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Facebook and New York Times.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

I take Guiness for a walk, and then we learn to do tricks. He is only 14 weeks old and he has learned sit, stay, shake and leave it. Did I say I was obsessed? Lately, I have also been trying to shut down my screen time (TV and computer) by 8:30 so I can go to bed at a decent hour. I haven’t been able to manage the phone yet since I like to Candy Crush for insanely long amounts of time. Anyway, while I am finishing up housework or getting cooking done, I like to listen to podcasts (Serial, Moth, NPR, Science, New York Times, etc). 

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

Not stepping into political landmines. Who would think that academia is teeming with drama? But it’s true. It involves money, power and ego. I have always thought of myself as a “bull in a china shop” kind of person. I am naturally completely clueless about how people are feeling or why they respond to situations in a certain way. I am still learning how to navigate a political world, but generally my rule of thumb is to listen until I know exactly what I want to say. 

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

That I have to go to social events all the time. I don’t and I am really happy about that.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Right now,

Game of Thrones

and cheese puffs.

All photos courtesy of Julie Koh

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  

Charter School Teacher, Alicia Hunker


P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches 



An Interview with Illustrator Lauren Lowen

2016 Reading Round Up, Part Two

2016 Reading Round Up, Part Two