Meet Marion Leary, a resuscitation scientist passionate about saving lives from sudden cardiac arrest by integrating technology and digital strategies!

What is your scientific background?

I am a resuscitation science researcher at the Center for Resuscitation Science at the University of Pennsylvania. I was a critical care nurse prior to my career in research. I have a Master’s degree in Nursing and a Master’s degree in Public Health. I am preparing to apply for a Ph.D. program in science communication for the Fall 2018 semester. My research focuses on the intersection of technology and resuscitation education and training. Currently, I am using virtual reality and augmented reality to improve bystander response and training to sudden cardiac arrest. I am also an instructor in the Master’s of Public Health program at Penn and a Course Director for a research residency course, and Innovation Specialist at the Penn School of Nursing.

Marion Leary

Why did you choose to become a scientist?

I have always loved asking and answering questions. When I finally decided to go to college — it took me 5 years after graduating high school to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up — I knew I wanted to do research. I saw an open house flyer that highlighted a nurse researcher at a local university and knew that was what I wanted to do.

How did you choose your field of study?

After working for a short time in the medical ICU (MICU), I was told about a nurse research coordinator position with the Center for Resuscitation Science. I figured I needed research experience and since I had worked in the MICU I had a lot of experience with cardiac arrest. I decided I would learn all of the fundamental research skills in that position and then move on to the area of study I was most interested in — infectious disease, especially HIV/AIDS. As a teenager, I volunteered with many AIDS service organizations and was very much dedicated to working in that field. I wanted to take my interest in research and focus on HIV/AIDS, however after 10 years now of working at the Center for Resuscitation Science I have become an expert in the field, working my way up from nurse research coordinator, to a nurse researcher, and now as the Principal Investigator (PI) of my own research grants. I am dedicated to improving outcomes from this highly mortal disease state – and the field of resuscitation science has been very good to me!

Which topic are you working on at the moment? Why did you choose this topic and how do you think you’ll make a difference?

Currently, I am researching the use of technology for education and training of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) during cardiac arrest. I have integrated a virtual reality wearable device with a CPR training manikin to create a multisensory (audio, visual, tactile) sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) training system. I also created an augmented reality CPR training application that integrates a CPR training manikin with the Microsoft HoloLens. When the trainee performs CPR on the manikin the data is transferred to the HoloLens in real-time and is rendered as an augmented reality overlay back onto the manikin. The image shows the physiology taking place within the human body during CPR so that the trainee can see the blood flow to the vital organs based on the actual quality of CPR they are performing. Blood flow increase as the quality of CPR (appropriate chest compression rate and depth) increases based on actual human physiology.

What are your biggest achievements, and what your biggest failures?

One of my biggest achievements related to my career is becoming my own PI, planning out my own research agenda that incorporates my interests in technology, science communication and the use of digital strategies in this field. Every time a grant does not get funded it feels like a failure but it is just part of the research game. I am a firm believer that failure is not solely a bad thing — one can, and should, learn from it. Other successes include the science communication work I do with the local Philadelphia group Start Talking Science — a yearly event where scientists and researchers present their work to the public in a way that makes it easily accessible.

What is a typical day like for you?

I love this question! Last year I wrote a blog post documenting a day (over a week) in the life of a resuscitation science researcher. I think it would be great if other scientists and researchers did the same thing. I am a big proponent of science communication and translating the work we all do for the masses. The only way the general public will understand why science and technology are so vital to our world is if they understand what it is we do and why!

What are the hardest parts related to this work?

The constant time spent on research grants that most likely will not get funded. As scientists we want to be doing the actual research — but without funding, it is really difficult. There has to be a better way to advance the work we all do!

Marion and colleagues/ Marion Leary

Did you ever doubt your abilities as a scientist? Why? How did you handle these situations/feelings?

Currently, I do not have a Ph.D. I am going to apply for Ph.D. programs starting this year, but for the past 10 years, I have been doing this work without a Ph.D. In academia especially, one is not taken as seriously without that degree, regardless of the quality of work being performed. I am looking forward to the Ph.D. program because I know there is so much more that I can learn, but that will not take away or add to the legitimacy of the work I have been doing or will do after.

What (or who) motivated you in difficult times?

My kid. She is wise beyond her 11 years. I also have an amazing colleague who I work very closely with – we try to motivate each other as much as possible.

In ten years, what do you hope to have accomplished in terms of your work?

I hope to be done a Ph.D. program in Science Communication and continuing my work to save lives from sudden cardiac arrest and other time-sensitive disease states. I hope to be doing more Science Communication and I would like to start writing a book!

If you were completely free to choose a scientific topic to work on, which would it be?

I wish I would have studied physics or astronomy. I am very much interested in space science, but I feel as though it is too late for me to change career paths at this point in my life. I will just have to live vicariously through other scientists in those areas! Personal life

Do you come from an academic family?

I am the first generation of my immediate family to go to college — let alone complete two Master’s degrees (and hopefully apply to, and begin, a Ph.D. program). My one aunt is the only other person on both sides of my family to have a graduate degree.

How does your family regard your career choice?

I don’t think my family quite understands exactly what I do, but they know I love it and that the work I do literally saves lives. They are very proud of the work that I do.

Besides your scientific interests, what are your personal interests?

I love to read, listen to podcasts, play games with friends & family (my wife and kid), and bike. I also love to write. I am a contributor to the Huffington Post and write blog posts on Medium as regularly as the academic writing needs allow (which has not been often enough lately).

Is it hard to manage both career and private life? How do you manage both?

It can be difficult, at the beginning of my career I worked all the time, during normal work hours, in the evenings when I got home, on the weekends. Eventually, I decided that there will always be work to do and that it was never going to go away — especially since I am a highly driven, motivated person — so I needed to focus on work-life balance. That was the best decision I have ever made. I make a concerted effort to not work in the evenings so that I can spend as much time as possible with my wife and kid.

If you had the option to give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?

I worked after high school and did not go directly to college — and though I know for a fact that was the absolute right decision for me, and I actually think everyone should have to work at least a year after high school before colleague — it has been difficult to make up for that time off, especially in academia. I am going into my Ph.D. program later in life, as an adult with a family, it is a bit more difficult, but not insurmountable.

Marion with her female colleagues/ Marion Leary

What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome? Did you ever have the impression that it would be easier/harder if you were male?

For me personally, its a little hard to tell if me being a woman in science has been the reason for certain setback and rejections. I am a big proponent of supporting and highlighting women in science in general though. Last year a did a podcast series called STEAMrollrs which featured women who were paving the way in science, technology, engineering, art, and math as a way to highlight the gender bias in science.

In your opinion, which changes, if any, are needed in the scientific system to be more attractive to female scientists and possible future scientists?

Their needs to be more of a focus in grade school and high school highlighting female STEM professionals. Additionally, the disparities in pay need to be addressed, along with an increase in diversity in the STEM fields, not just for women but all minorities.


You can contact Marion at, visit her website, and follow her on Twitter!