“When I visited campus for the first time, I knew this was where I was supposed to be.” That initial feeling, plus a strong desire to attend college in New York City, eventually led Kelly Almond ’08P, ’11GP, ’16Ph.D. to spend her entire academic career at St. John’s University.
Today, Dr. Almond serves as Principal Scientist, Scientific Affairs, for PepsiCo, where she has worked since 2016. One of her primary responsibilities is supporting the safety of ingredients for PepsiCo products from premarket innovation to postmarket surveillance.
Dr. Almond, a native of Goshen, NY, initially majored in Biology at St. John’s with an eye toward medical school. She soon realized that was not where her interests lie, and counselors encouraged her to investigate the Toxicology program in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
“I really fell in love with the science surrounding toxicology,” she recalled.
As her undergraduate studies concluded, one of Dr. Almond’s professors suggested she pursue graduate studies rather than enter the job market. A meeting was arranged between her and Louis D. Trombetta, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, who was Department Chair at the time, and one of Dr. Almond’s professors.
“I walked out of that meeting with a project, a scholarship, and keys to a lab,” she recalled with a laugh. “It gave me this great opportunity to build something at St. John’s, which really appealed to me.”
Dr. Almond proceeded to build a lab devoted to the study of zebrafish. Dr. Almond’s research focused on a marine biocide, a substance that controls the unwanted growth of marine organisms on marine structures such as ships, and its effect on the nervous system and muscle development of zebrafish. “Research while starting a new facility at a school is always challenging. It was a lot of trial and error. If anything, it taught me patience, not to give up, and to explore different avenues.”
After three years of research, she realized there was more work to be done and a need to train new people to continue the work of the lab. “I had almost sole creative control over my project, which is not common,” she stressed. “It was an opportunity to develop my own work,” instead of supporting the work of a faculty mentor.
One of Dr. Almond’s primary responsibilities in her current role is risk assessment, and she feels that St. John’s gave her opportunities that most graduate schools do not offer in this field. “I had courses and seminars that enabled me to apply real-world principles. St. John’s also taught me how to think critically. You need to come to your own conclusions and then challenge them in a respectful way. It’s important to build those skills as a student before you go out into the working world.”
During her time in graduate school, Dr. Almond became involved in the Society of Toxicology, a national professional organization whose mission is to create a safer and healthier world by advancing the science and increasing the impact of toxicology. Her membership there eventually created networking opportunities that led to her position at PepsiCo.
“I tell all graduate students that you never know whom you’re going to meet and where you’re going to meet them.”
Dr. Almond is always happy to support St. John’s, whether it is by attending networking events or speaking to students. One of her former interns, a St. John’s graduate, recently accepted a position at PepsiCo.
She is still an active member of the Society of Toxicology, as well as numerous scientific and trade organizations. While academia is not her passion, she uses the teaching skills she learned at St. John’s on an almost daily basis both within her company and in leadership roles in several of these professional organizations.
Dr. Almond added that she is often called upon to explain scientific topics to students. “I’ve been able to use many of those techniques in my current role, and I have received a lot of positive feedback for how I educate my peers in the industry and my colleagues. Much of that comes from St. John’s.”