By Johanna Willett
The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson.
Just call Alaina G. Levine, a professional consultant, science writer and entrepreneur, “Lady Dyn-o-mite.”
This corporate comedian — yes, that’s a thing– gets her dynamic nickname from her undergrad days as a University of Arizona pool shark.
Levine, now the president of her science and engineering career consulting business Quantum Success Solutions, owes the UA for more than just her brilliance in billiards, which, she admits, has faded since her college days. She also thanks the university for her education and her career.
The insights Levine shares in her first book, “Networking for Nerds: Find, Access and Land Hidden Game-Changing Career Opportunities Everywhere,” come from her own experiences of capitalizing on connections. Networking has been dynamite for her career.
“Networking has helped me in immense ways not just to find new career opportunities, but to find playgrounds to play in and to find new toys to play with and new people who would be interested in working with me,” Levine says. She even got the contract for her new book through professional connections.
But networking was never something she learned as a math major.
In her own university experience, Levine found herself under-instructed in the mechanics of actually finding — and then keeping — a job.
Now, she has made a career of teaching networking and other professional development skills, including event planning. She focuses especially on science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — fields.
“My main mission is to ensure that scientists and engineers and non-nerds, too, are able to find, land and keep their dream job, whatever that job is,” says Levine, who is “40 and fabulous.”
Levine graduated from the UA in 1996 with a bachelor of science in mathematics and in 1997 with a bachelor of arts in anthropology with an archaeology emphasis. Minors in Middle Eastern studies accompanied both degrees, along with a certificate in the same subject.
A self-proclaimed nerd and lover of “Indiana Jones,” Levine wanted to be “Indiana Alaina.”
“The theme in my career is to incorporate different fields that some people might think aren’t related,” Levine says. She has always had a passion for science … and business … and performing arts. Her company brings that all together.
She got her first job out of college as director of communications for the UA’s physics department because of networking. She had been assistant to the previous communications director and had developed a reputation that she could do the job.
She fell in love with the idea of science communications as a career.
“Science is my BFF, and I love sharing with people my love of science and inspiring others to study and become scientists themselves,” she says.
In 2000, the UA College of Science hired her as director of special projects. In that position, she oversaw the Professional Science Master’s that blended science and business and later launched and taught an entrepreneurship course for science and engineering students.
As she spoke at events, she realized she had the makings of a business — and an outlet for her sense of humor. She started Quantum Success Solutions in 2004, but it didn’t become her full-time gig until 2009 when she left the university.
Beyond the hundreds of speeches and workshops she has given internationally for universities, scientific societies and research centers, Levine also freelances for publications including Science, Nature and Scientific American. Two career columns of hers appear regularly in Physics Today and the American Physical Society’s APS News, where she is also a contributing correspondent.
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In all of it, she laces professionalism with humor.
Alan Chodos, the retired associate executive officer of the American Physical Society and a former editor of APS News, has edited pieces by Levine for about 10 years.
“If anything, I had to tone it down,” Chodos says, speaking by phone from where he lives in Alexandria, Virginia. “She likes puns and plays on words of one kind or another, and some of them were really good.” He pauses and laughs. “Some of them not so much. But I would say her personality really comes through in the writing.”
Chodos wanted to hire Levine for a lead media relations position in Maryland, but Levine didn’t want to leave her Tucson job at the College of Science. Since moving here for the UA in 1992 from her home in New Jersey, Levine has made the city her professional launch pad.
“When I say Tucson helped me write this book and helped me in my career, I am not lying about that at all,” Levine says. “In every way, Tucson has helped me become a success, down to the fact that I wrote the book in the Pima (Community) College library on the west side.”
Tucson has loved her back. In 2006, she was named Tucson Leader of the Year, and in 2007 the Southern Arizona branch of the National Association of Women Business Owners gave her a Rising Star award. Other honors include a YWCA Women on the Move award and a spot on the inaugural 40 Under 40 list sponsored by the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Daily Star. And there’s more, including several journalism fellowships.
Since Levine has made a career out of words, we thought we’d let her share some of her own.
Early career aspirations: “First, I wanted to be an astronaut, and then I wanted to be on Broadway and then a biochemist and then an astrophysicist because I’m a ‘Star Trek’ nerd. … And all at the same time, I had this vision of myself in a suit carrying a briefcase to a business meeting. When I was in kindergarten, I took, instead of a backpack, a briefcase to school with me on my first day of class. I think the way I was raised by my mother is never to look at a career as a job, something you have to do. She raised me to go toward whatever I enjoyed, and she really helped me to find ways to enable myself to improve on the skills I enjoyed using.”
Defining “corporate comedian”: “Corporate comedians don’t do standup. I work with companies and conferences and professional associations and government labs and nonprofits, and when I’m giving workshops and talking about professional development, I’m incorporating humor into those workshops. … I remember a few years ago, I was giving a speech for a company … and they had scheduled me at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning … They’re serving breakfast while I’m speaking and they’re not paying attention … I announced to the room, ‘Excuse me, I have to talk to you about something really important … Who was the better captain, Kirk or Picard?’ And now they’re listening.”
Learning to be bold: “My mother would take us to New York City to see Broadway shows, and we would wait at the stage door for performers to come out and get autographs. When I was younger, I was fearful to talk to celebrities, and my mom would walk up to them and engage them in a conversation. We saw Dustin Hoffman doing Shakespeare on Broadway, and she waited at the stage door and walked right up to him … Watching her do that showed me I don’t have to be fearful when going to talk to someone.”