As the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Oates oversees seven academic departments -- Biology and Biotechnology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Computer Science, Humanities and Arts, Mathematical Sciences, Physics, and Social Science and Policy Studies -- as well as interdisciplinary programs in Environmental Science and Interactive Media and Game Development.

Oates is the former deputy director of undergraduate education at the National Science Foundation's Division of Undergraduate Studies. She earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry at George Washington University and began her academic and research career at George Mason University before being promoted to a number of increasingly prominent leadership positions. As an associate dean at George Mason, she was centrally involved in creating its New American College environment.

She is also an award-winning teacher. More recent interests and publications have centered on women's health generally, faculty development, service learning, business-higher education partnerships and K-12 science and mathematics education.