Q&A with Jannette Carey, I-Corps Northeast Hub Faculty Lead - Princeton University

Written by
Alaina O'Regan, Office of the Dean for Research
June 24, 2022

Princeton associate professor of chemistry Jannette Carey talks about the new regional I-Corps Northeast Hub program, her journey as an underrepresented person in STEM and entrepreneurship, and how university research can lead to benefits for society.

Photo of Jannette Carey with text to right side of photo

Jannette Carey, associate professor of chemistry and Princeton's faculty lead for the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Northeast Hub, is passionate about using her platform to help other researchers and entrepreneurs find success. Each university in the hub has a faculty lead who helps connect university researchers with I-Corps Hub programs.

In this interview, Carey discusses her motivation for being part of the I-Corps program, her experience with diversity in STEM and how that influences her priorities and goals, and her vision for the future of I-Corps.

Q: How did you become interested in participating in I-Corps? 

A: I thought the I-Corps National teams were a good opportunity for two of my undergraduate students. I had two young women in the group who were both really great students, very determined, and who had more of a bent toward going into industry after graduation than I myself had. They worked on two related projects involving protein chemistry in 2015 and 2016. The opportunity to bring the Hub program to graduate students and postdocs, as well as to faculty, appealed to me.

Q: How does the I-Corps Northeast Hub create a positive and supportive environment for its participants?

A: Our Hub places high value on ensuring that all new participants feel welcome and supported by the program. Besides recruiting, I participate in interviews with prospective teams and offer them my support directly, and I attend the final presentations in our I-Corps regional training program so I can see the results of our efforts toward inclusivity and support in action.

Q: What has been your experience as an underrepresented person in chemistry, and why is it important for programs like I-Corps to appeal to people with diverse backgrounds?

A: I think we have a huge problem in America generally with equality of opportunity. Equal opportunity has become just something people say. We have to take more active steps to have a sincere effort to adapt. That's something that's very important to me, and I use those principles in everything I do. As a woman in STEM, I've experienced marginalization firsthand, but in a way that still reflects a great deal of privilege because I'm white, I have a wonderful education, and I have a privileged position. I'm really very committed to seeing more meaningful change in our society than I think we've managed to achieve so far.

Q: What steps is the Northeast I-Corps Hub taking regarding diversity and inclusion?

A: I think we are living out these ideals to the extent we can already, and I am certain that will continue. I hope we can include more young women in particular. I think in general, our hub’s main aim is to bring diversity to entrepreneurship. I think the barriers are at the intake end, and that's where we're working. And I think NSF certainly has our back on that. I believe NSF would very much like to see a more equal society, not just not just in I-Corps, not just in science, but in society in general as well.

Q: How can we work to ensure that federally funded research results can become innovations and products that can benefit society? 

A: I think we are on a path to do that. I would guess that most faculty – outside of engineering, let's say – are like I was, with the focus on basic research and hardly a thought given to commercialization. I think we're just at the beginning. I'm kind of old school – I'm happy just doing the fundamental research without thinking about its application. It has always bothered me that my work is completely esoteric and it doesn't serve society, so it's something that I think is important and that I wished I could do in my own work. I think people now are more ready for that. Even people who are old school like me are ready for the idea. And if we through I-Corps can make it happen, I think that's going to be a net gain for everybody. That's certainly what NSF has in mind. 

Q:  Why do you think more researchers are becoming interested in innovation? 

A: I think NSF can take a good part of the credit for it. Bringing I-Corps to their awardees ten or so years ago was a brilliant way to jump-start the process. Awareness of the program has spread in that decade, and our job in the Hub is to spread it even further. My main strategy so far has been to reach the graduate students and postdocs. Being at the beginning of their careers means they are probably considering alternate paths for their future. If they see I-Corps as a valuable opportunity for their work here, then their faculty mentors may come along too.

Learn more about I-Corps at icorpsne.org