Postdoc hopes Pennsylvania voters will help her re-engineer how to run for Congress

Molly Sheehan relishes going rogue as she runs for a U.S. congressional seat from suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, right down to wearing an outdated campaign button on her blouse.

A postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) who designs proteins for possible use in treating cancer, Sheehan has ignored conventional wisdom about the importance of raising tons of money to spread her message that she’s “a mother, a bioengineer, [and a] proud progressive.” Instead, she’s urging scientists and others in the community to offer their considerable skills to work for candidates they support. She also discounts the value of endorsements from establishment figures, casting herself as part of a new generation of elected officials who hope to loosen the gridlock in Washington, D.C.

But Sheehan, a Democrat, isn’t oblivious to the political winds. And the recent upheavals in the state’s political landscape could bolster her grassroots bid to represent the suburban Philadelphia district where she grew up. That’s where the button comes in.

This story is the first in a three-part series on candidates with considerable scientific training who are running as Democrats for the U.S. House of Representatives in Pennsylvania. Their first test is the 15 May primary.