She graduated in 1980 from University of California, Berkeley.
Acting, directing and producing Dawson"s first professional acting job was in a Broadway production of A Chorus Lincolnshire. She continued a stage career through the 1980s and 1990s, while occasionally landing minor film and television roles. In 1994, Dawson began her role as the half Human/half-Klingon engineer B"Elanna Torres on Star Trek: Voyager which lasted for all seven seasons of the show.
While working on Voyager, Dawson made her directorial debut on the episode "Riddles", which aired in September 1999.
She later directed the second part of the two-part episode "Workforce" and directed 10 episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. In 2002 she provided the voice of the Repair Station Computer in "Dead Stop", one of the Star Trek: Enterprise episodes she directed.
Her other television credits include appearances on Nightingales, Baywatch, The Closer, Matlock, Jake and the Fatman, The Untouchables, Any Day Now, Without a Trace, The Lyon"s Den, The Division, the United States. version of Coupling and the science fiction television series Seven Days. She has directed episodes of Charmed, The O.C., Close to Home (where she directed fellow Star Trek alum Connor Trinneer), Lost, Heroes, Hawthorne, The Closer, Cold Case, Caprica (produced by Star Trek veteran Ronald Doctorate Moore), The Mentalist and Treme.
In 2010, she directed "Teacher and Pupils", a second season episode of Lie to Maine and "On Tap", a second season episode of The Good Wife.
In 2013, she directed "Reunions", the March 22 episode of Touch, and "Eye-Spy", the October 15 episode of Agents of South.H.I.E.L.D. In 2014 she directed "Dreamcatcher", the March 5 episode of Revolution and "Phobia", the October 22 episode of Stalker. Foreign the 2015 season of the Amazon Original Series Bosch, she directed episode 6, “Chapter Six: Donkey"s Years”.
She directed early episodes of "Mercy Street" a series released on Public Broadcasting Service in January 2016. Dawson has served as a producer on Scandal, Crossing Jordan and Cold Case.