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How the Keeley twins apply their love of science to a career in consulting

By Aparna K. Paul

Emily and Charlotte Keeley Photo courtesy of Emily and Charlotte Keeley

In their years since high school, identical twin sisters Emily and Charlotte Keeley, have gone onto become MIT graduates and consultants at the global management firm, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG)—a career they both agree uses some of the same skills and characteristics they enjoy most in science.

The sisters have followed similar paths and, as you might expect of identical twins, they have a lot in common. Emily and Charlotte attended Charlottesville High School in Charlottesville, Virginia, and graduated from MIT with Bachelor of Science degrees in Biological Engineering. In 2012, they participated in ISEF as science fair partners, collaborating on a project stirred by a challenging problem in medicine: wound healing.

Their desire to see observable and direct impact on patients’ lives led them to create a diagnostic smart bandage, with the guidance of a biomedical engineering professor at the University of Virginia. The energetic duo implemented their idea and developed an elastic polymer bandage embedded with oxygen-sensitive nanoparticles. The bandage, tested on mice, proved capable of capturing a wound’s oxygenation levels and healing progress—a potential treatment option for burn victims, veterans or others with severe wounds.

The Keeley sisters were science fair partners in ISEF 2012
The Keeley sisters were science fair partners in ISEF 2012 Photo courtesy of Emily and Charlotte Keeley

Emily and Charlotte’s parents are both physicians, which contributed to the sisters’ interest in human health, but they agree that the seed for science and discovery was planted in elementary school. Emily recalls, “From building towers out of straws to food science, I liked uncovering truths about the way the world works and backing up my hypotheses with data.”

The sisters liked that creative thinking could answer questions about the world through methodical investigating and reasoning.

Like many students who participate in science fairs and competitions, ISEF was the first time the pair felt allied to a community of like-minded, ambitious engineers and scientists motivated to tackle scientific challenges riddling the world around them. Emily asserts that even to this day, “I continue to build and cherish a network that spans geographies and disciplines.” They recently, for example, participated on a panel discussion about the National Geographic film, Science Fair, as part of the Virginia Film Festival, seeing the panel as an opportunity to inspire student interest in STEM. Additionally, many of their peers at MIT also competed in ISEF; enabling them to stay connected to other alumni. The sisters also hope to serve as STEM mentors in the future.

“Being science fair partners was a great learning opportunity for us: beyond learning how not to interrupt each other, we learned how to give each other constructive feedback, welcome each other’s ideas and divide up responsibilities, which served us well at MIT,” Emily said. Charlotte added, “We are extremely competitive, and we have certainly pushed each other in and out of the classroom to think more critically and to be more empathetic.”

Emily and Charlotte at the Virginia Film Festival Photo courtesy of Emily and Charlotte Keeley

Though the sisters are siblings first, and have to reconcile differences in opinion from time to time, they value all the relationships they have—science fair partners, teammates on the sports field, colleagues, critics and friends.

In adulthood, the ISEF experience has been informative for the twins. Although they could have chosen a number of career paths, in unison, Emily and Charlotte transitioned into consulting careers at the Boston offices of BCG where they are able to utilize many key STEM skills in their current work. The Keeleys emphasize that the many attributes they deeply enjoy about science and engineering are also found in consulting: problem solving, communication and analysis, listening skills and being a valued voice and member of a team.

“Often I find myself asking questions and proposing tests to get at the answer. I use math every day and sometimes work on projects related to STEM industries,” Charlotte said. They pursued consulting because they knew that the field promotes collaboration, quantitative analysis and application of emotional intelligence to problem-solve in myriad fields, from social impact to private equity. Both Emily and Charlotte plan to go back to school in a few years. 

Aparna Paul