Nicole McKnight case study

Community is the word

From UCL PhD student to UCLFAA board member today, alumna Nicole McKnight reflects on her UCL experience and the importance of building a strong community.

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Building support networks and communities have long been part of UCL molecular and cell biology alumna, Nicole McKnight’s life. In fact, she is so passionate about the value of communities that she has made it her life’s work.

Nicole co-founded the Keystone for Incubating Innovation in Life sciences Network (KiiLN), a non-profit organisation that provides acceleration programming for entrepreneurial scientists and very early-stage companies.

In 2014, she joined BioLabs New York, a premier co-working space with wet labs for biotech startups in Manhattan, and part of the BioLabs Network with sites across the U.S.

A significant part of both KiiLN and BioLabs’ missions are grounded in providing networking, mentoring and educational support. “We know that scientists learn a lot from each other and through experience. So it is powerful that scientists are able to talk to each other. This is what we are trying to facilitate with KiiLN and BioLabs,” says Nicole.

This essential truth is one Nicole discovered through her own life, including her experience at UCL.

“Studying a PhD, particularly in science, can be lonely and isolating. These traits are detrimental to a scientist’s success.You have to expand beyond the academic lab and gain entrepreneurial skills to be able to have the technology commercialised. It helps to have a network of people to connect with,” said Nicole.

A connection that has come full circle

Nicole’s passion for encouraging growth and innovation in the life science community has spilled over to education.

Once a scholarship recipient herself, Nicole joined the UCL Friends and Alumni Association (UCLFAA) board last year to give back to the community that helped her. The UCLFAA exists to raise awareness and support for research and education at UCL and gives US students access to education and scholarships opportunities at UCL, whilst also promoting the university’s current philanthropic campaign, It’s All Academic.

Nicole commented: “it is essential for the industry to collaborate and develop research in a global sense so that the incredible discoveries scientists make can have a tangible impact on society. Equally so, it’s really important that the UCLFAA supports students and alumni in developing these global connections.”

A lifelong connection with UCL

Nicole’s found her own university experience useful, not just for what she learned but also for the network it gave her access to.

“It has been really nice to stay connected and meet other alumni. It’s impressive getting to know all the different ways people have studied at the university – some attended for just one semester abroad while others have spent many years,” commented Nicole.

Nicole reminds us of the value alumni communities have, stating: “those who were once classmates may be business owners or CEOs today. Starting a successful company can be hard and these contacts could be invaluable one day”.

Find your community

Want to connect with fellow alumni in your area? There are opportunities to connect, network and volunteer through the UCL Alumni Online Community.