Monthly Archives

March 2012

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Sarah Murray, former research assistant, University of Manchester

Sarah Murray

Sarah Murray

Former research assistant
University of Manchester



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always enjoyed school right from the start and as a child decided that I wanted a career, to be in a profession of some kind. Like many kids though I wanted to be something different every week from actress to astronaut! When I was around 7 or 8 though I asked my parents for a chemistry set for christmas. That made the decision for me really. I was interested in most subjects but found I was most interested in chemistry and biology. If I’d listened to my mum I would have become a physician but its research I love.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My PhD subject at the University of Manchester for so many reasons. I was fortunate enough to get a joint post as RA and PhD studentship so I was a student with a salary! This was in the only Paper Science Department in the country and involved working with alot of people. I guess these days it would be considered a green project.

It involved deinking office paper and trying to find the best enzymes for this purpose of removing ink, as a replacement for the harsh chemicals which were normally used. After over 2 years of hard work which I loved, getting 1 result which would lead to more experimental design and yet more answers was very rewarding. I also loved the fact that it was rather messy and I would get my hands dirty!

Role models and heroes:

  • My first role model was my A Level chemistry teacher Mrs Shelia Wilson. She still lives opposite some relatives of mine and I will always be fond of her.
  • All my undergrad teachers and my PhD tutor, Dr Chris Wilkins
  • Scientists of the past: Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin.
  • Scientists of the present: Sir Harry Kroto, Dr Brian May, Prof. Richard Dawkins, Prof. Brian Cox
  • My friends, scientists and non scientists alike
  • My partner for his support.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Listen to your heart not other people and follow your dreams. It is your life, work hard and enjoy your work. Be passionate about it and your place of work. This will also help you to inspire people and be a good role model for the next generation. Opportunities and boundless rewards will come your way.

Favorite website or app:
University of Nottingham’s Periodic Table of Videos: www.periodicvideos.com

Twitter: @sarahscientist
Site: www.sarahstracks.webplus.net

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Suzanne Kennedy, Ph.D., Director of Research and Development

Suzanne Kennedy

Suzanne Kennedy, Ph.D.

Director of Research and Development
MO BIO Laboratories



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I knew I wanted to be a scientist at a young age. My earliest memory of knowing that science would be my life was around 8 years old. My inspiration came from two sources. One was my dad. He loved science and taught me to ask questions, to be excited by nature and feel awe by the unknown and mysterious, such as outer space. He encouraged my love for science.

My father was also a devout Catholic and raised us to have respect for those things which we cannot understand but accept on faith. This fueled my desire to understand and question not just the physical world but everything about our existence including God and the origins of life. Between my upbringing and natural inquisitiveness, the seeds were planted and with it grew a life long love for science.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I have worked on and am working on right now is the Earth Microbiome Project. This is an effort to identify and catalog all of the microbes on the planet. It is a massive effort headed by several dedicated labs to understand our earth in a much deeper way; to understand the microbes that keep this planet healthy and alive which will allow us to monitor changes to our earth microbiome and eventually know how to correct it. This information is vital for all of us. For the first time in earth’s history, we’ll know all the microbes that exist, where they live, and eventually, their function. I am very proud to be a part of this exciting program.

Role models and heroes:
My dad, and also there were many women science teachers in high school and college who were great role models for me. In regards to famous women scientists, Rosalind Franklin is my greatest inspiration, role model, and hero. Her amazing work led to one of the world’s most important discoveries, the structure of DNA. Rosalind’s impact on my daily life through her discovery is a constant reminder of how important women are to scientific progress. I am forever grateful to Rosalind for all she gave to science in her short life.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Follow your gut. Don’t doubt yourself, you’re probably right. Learn to take criticism but don’t let it hold you back or keep your enthusiasm away. You don’t have to agree with someone’s criticism of you. In fact, you shouldn’t believe any negative thing anyone ever says about you. Don’t let others tell you what you can and cannot do, what you are or are not capable of.

Keep all your professional relationships intact. You never know when you will have to work with that person again in the future. Science is a very small world. When someone treats you unkindly, remember, everyone has a bad day. Give them a free pass. And, when you make a mistake, forgive yourself. When you’re working hard, you’re going to make mistakes. Learn from them and move on.

Twitter: @suzyscientist

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Sarah Chmielewski, Software Engineer

Sarah Chmielewski

Sarah Chmielewski

Software Engineer

Organization: MIT Lincoln Laboratory by day, President of the Society of Women Engineers Boston section by night

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I enjoy challenges, so when I began my undergraduate education at the University of Florida, I asked, “What is the most difficult major?” Most would say a degree in engineering, so I decided my freshman year that I was going to be an engineer. I then took an Introduction to Engineering course, which provided a glimpse into the various engineering degree options at the university.

Every week, we would visit a different department to learn what kind of problems engineers in those fields faced. Computer Engineering stuck out to me because it was so new and up-and-coming. I also liked the idea of working on cutting-edge technologies.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I ever worked on was a robot during my senior year at the University of Florida at the Machine Intelligence Laboratory. The project was to build a robot from scratch – including designing and milling the robot structure, adding various electronics and sensors, and finally programming the robot to have behaviors – all in one summer and all completely independently.

For the project, I took apart a toy tank and added IR sensors for avoidance detection, a microcontroller for controlling the servos and sensors, and a motion detection sensor so that the tank would shoot pellets at moving targets. It was a lot of fun; although I think Mechanical Engineers would have cringed at my extensive use of hot glue. My robot could definitely have benefited from some inter-disciplinary teamwork.

Role models and heroes:
My mother always taught me to be curious about the world around us. She is a pharmacist, so she enjoyed the sciences – biology, anatomy, and chemistry especially. She encouraged us to explore the world around us and to challenge ourselves. As a student in college in the 60s, she met with negative stereotypes and unfortunately was discouraged from fulfilling her dream of becoming a medical doctor. As a result, she tried to teach us discernment and introspection – it’s important to take into consideration another person’s opinion, but never forget to look inside yourself.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Being in a STEM field is extremely rewarding and provides many more opportunities than other fields. As a computer engineer, I spent the first three years of my career working with autonomous underwater vehicles and autonomous ground vehicles with the Navy. I then moved into software development for unmanned aerial vehicles. Now, I work in the exciting field of cyber security. I’m not sure I’d be able to say the same if I had chosen a non-STEM field. So my advice is to challenge yourself – you’ll run into difficulties and certainly you’ll get stumped, but don’t give up.

Favorite website or app: SWE Boston

Twitter: @SarahRuthChm

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Holly Griffith, Flight Controller/Engineer

Holly Griffith

Holly Griffith

Flight Controller / Engineer
Johnson Space Center

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
As a kid I loved shows like Star Wars and Star Trek. This got me interested in space in general, which led to me wanting to work at NASA. My interest stayed with me all through high school, and when it came time to pick a major in college, I decided that engineering would be the best one for me to be able to get there.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There have been so many! If I had to pick one, I would say working towards my ascent/entry certification. We do sims (simulations) to get us flight controllers prepared to sit console. The sims ready us for just about any situation you can think of, nominal and off-nominal. The ascent/entry sims would last 4 hours and you would have about 5 ascent or entry sims in that time. They were always so exciting, to get to “work” 5 Shuttle ascents in a row!

It was so faced paced and things happened so quick that you always had to be ready for anything. The group dynamic was great, too, since everybody had to be on their toes and help each other out by giving their inputs to failures even if they were in someone else’s system. It really showed you the importance of teamwork in this job.

Role models and heroes:
My parents – they always told me I could do whatever I wanted and supported me 100%. Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson for being such great science communicators. Princess Leia – I know she’s not real but she’s always been one of my heroes and was the first person to get me interested in science and space.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Do what you love. Don’t let the lack of women in a certain field deter you; doing it anyway is the only way to change that.

Favorite website or app:
Just one?? 🙂 Websites: I spend a lot of time on Reddit, I like the “Today I learned” and “Ask me anything” subreddits. I also spend a lot of time on Amazon since I love to read. Apps: Instacast for my podcasts, Osfoora for Twitter, and Kindle. Of course, Facebook.

Twitter: @absolutspacegrl, @smartgirlsrock

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Emilie Clemmens, Postdoc, Bioengineering

emilie Clemmens

Emilie Clemmens

Postdoc
University of Washington
Department of Bioengineering



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Innate curiousity about the natural world was and still is my primary motivator. I was encouraged by success in math and science courses in high school, too. In my hometown of Ashland, KY there were several programs that supported students going into engineering (due to local industry), so I went down that path.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I’m working on it now! I’m developing a tool for our lab that will allow us to carefully stretch individual proteins. My interest is in mechanotransduction and mechanical sensing in cells and proteins. The protein I’m hoping to play with soon is called von Willebrand factor; it’s a critical anchor for platelets during clotting and it’s turned “on” (binds platelets) only when stretched out by fast blood flow. Sometimes it gets turned on when it’s not supposed to, such as in a clogged artery, and this can initiate clot formation when you definitely don’t want it. Those clots can initiate a heart attack or stroke, for example.

By carefully stretching this protein under controlled conditions, we can better understand how this process works and hopefully that will lead to improved thrombosis therapies. This project is so cool because I’m doing a lot of engineering to design and troubleshoot the tool AND I am studying the behavior of proteins too. Physiology is my passion, but there’s nothing more satisfying than truly understanding where your measurements are coming from because you built the tool yourself.

Role models and heroes:
Sometimes our role models and heroes aren’t overt, and I think that’s the case for me.  I believe the simple fact that I know of female Nobel Prize winners and that I’ve witnessed the successes of female faculty at the schools I’ve attended has proved to be inspiration enough.  If those trailblazers hadn’t been there, I wonder if I would feel less capable somehow.  So I’m grateful for them and the paths they’ve forged.

I’m also inspired by all individuals, regardless of gender, who are working to change the paradigm of traditional lecturing and apprenticeship at universities. The discipline barriers have been broken, and I’m seeing universities become more open to active learning in the classrooms–these are good things.  I also believe we need to continue to explore alternative paths to “success” in science, both in terms of how we fund it and the ways a person can participate in academic science.

Advice for future STEMinists?
I’ve just recently returned to science. I initially left to be home with my kids, who are now 6 and 4, and then I taught biology in community college for a number of years. According to the traditional path to “success”, I thought I had veered too far off the university track to get back on. I decided to just TRY, and I found a way. I applied for a fellowship I never thought I’d get, and I got it! Always try. Many women (and men) are grappling with issues of childrearing vs. career, and in my experience these were tough decisions.

But looking back, I’ve known so many parents who have done both, who eliminated that “vs.” and found a solution that worked for them. There’s no one right way. Make the decisions that you believe are best for you, keep in touch with your network, and roll with the unexpected–there’s always a lot of that. For the younger set, my advice is to challenge yourself. Don’t think you can’t handle the math–you can! Keep trying! Find a good teacher or tutor. And you don’t have to be an expert at everything. Do not forget that you have something important to give.

Favorite website or app:
TED.com. In 10-20 minutes, I can learn something new or see the world though another’s eyes. Far more interesting to me than snarky blog wars. Other than that I don’t spend much time on websites. With 2 kids and a full-time job, something’s gotta give.

Twitter: My Twitter account is @MommaSci. I had grand hopes for it, but I just don’t have time. I pretty much avoid Twitter!

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Sadie Jones, Outreach Leader in Astronomy

Sadie Jones

Sadie Jones

Outreach Leader in Astronomy
University of Southampton



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have always been interested in space, astronauts, pretty pictures from Hubble etc. Really like the big questions such as ‘Why are there supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies?’ ‘Where is the edge of the Universe’ etc, still excited by these questions now. Also very much enjoyed Maths and had excellent Physics teachers at GCSE and A-Level which made me believe anything was possible, and that dreaming of being an astronaut was perfectly fine.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Probably the Faulkes Telescope Project, I was lucky enough to use this telescope for my undergraduate studies in both my 3rd and 4th year projects at Cardiff University. It is a robotic telescope which is controlled over the internet, and can be used by school children for FREE. I used it to learn about radiation from Black Holes and look at Stars in clusters.

Role models and heroes:
My Parents, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Prof Brian Cox

Advice for future STEMinists?
Never stop asking the big questions. This is especially helpful if you end up working in research where it is very easy to forget why you started to do the research in the first place. Doing outreach in schools and getting amazing questions from students during my PhD really helped me remember why my research on black holes was so cool.

Favorite website or app:
I have to say my own website 🙂 www.astrodome.soton.ac.uk

Twitter: @SotonAstrodome

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Izzy Johnston, Senior Engineer/Lead Developer

Izzy Johnston

Izzy Johnston

Senior Engineer/Lead Developer
PublicStuff



I am responsible for all mobile app development (Android, iPhone and Blackberry), the backend structure and design, database management, and front end development. On an average day, I program in 5 different languages.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have been programming since I was 11 years old. I paid my way through college by developing websites, fixing hardware, and teaching programming courses. However, I didn’t consider a career in STEM until after I graduated college. I attended law school because I wanted a career that would be challenging but would give me constant opportunities to change lives. Although I did well in law school, the law environment was not for me.

I realized that I loved the intellectual challenge of programming and that love made me good at what I did. Most STEM careers can be likened to jigsaw puzzles. Each requires the ability to see how a lot of little pieces fit together to make the whole. When I realized I could use my love of programming to positively impact people’s lives, I quit law school and delved into the wild world of freelance and technology instruction.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The most rewarding project I have ever worked on is Girl Develop It. We are a group of women (and a couple men) who take time outside of our very busy work schedules to teach low-cost programming classes to women and anyone uncomfortable with the traditional world of computer science. We started in NYC in 2010 and have grown to six cities, internationally.

I am in charge of curriculum development and review and I also teach our PHP/MySQL, Android Development with Java and iPhone Development with Objective C courses here in New York. All of our courses are designed for people who have little to no programming experience. The best thing about being involved with Girl Develop It is the “aha!” moment that crosses students faces when they realize that they are capable of learning and understanding the concepts of programming. I strive to empower students with the ability to learn even after they leave my class.

Role models and heroes:
As a child, I was immersed in books and loved reading about historical figures, like Ada Lovelace, George Washington Carver, and Madame Curie.

What do you love about working in STEM?
The constantly changing challenges that arise with new hardware, software, and technological advances.

Advice for future STEMinists?
In my coworking space, there are 10 different startups but only 4 women in the entire space and I am the only female “nerd”. While the ratio of women to men in STEM careers is still surprisingly low for the 21st century, it should never be a deterrent. If the ratio bothers you, do something to change it. Get more involved, mentor teenagers, be an advocate. And on a lighter note, girls who can make good github puns are always a hit at parties.

Favorite website or app:
Well, if by favorite, you mean the ones I use the most–stackoverflow.com, xkcd.com, github and eventbrite.

Twitter: @izzy_johnston

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Brooke Ann Napier, PhD Candidate, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics

Brooke Ann Napier

Brooke Ann Napier

Ph.D. Candidate, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Emory University

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
The ingredients of my career: one good science teacher (8th grade biology – Ms. Riddel) and a hunger for understanding why and how things work. In 8th grade I learned that biology was intuitive, and by just paying attention to what was going on around you and a little elbow grease you could find the answers to pretty much any question! By college my questions were getting smaller and more specific and I realized that my teachers didn’t know the answers – and that drive influenced me to join a PhD program.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I can’t pick a single one!! However, my current project is looking at a new emerging bacterial pathogen that is multi- and pan-drug resistant. There are huge questions about how and why this bacterium replicates and causes disease – because I am in the right place at the right time I get the chance to elucidate if this bacterium replicates intracellularly, extracellularly, or both! If I am lucky I will be able to discover how and why this soil bacterium has taken a turn for the worst and is infecting ICU patients in hospitals around the US.

Role models and heroes:
I have a few: Craig Venter, I admire his ingenuity and zest for answering questions that people are too scared to approach. Bill Bryson, he’s not particularly a scientist, however there has to be something said for someone who can take very difficult topics like the history of science or the structure of a house and turn them into something not only interesting but approachable. And, Sarah Scoles, she has dedicated her career to giving her students the ability and the confidence to become scientists (as I mentioned before, you just need one good teacher).

Advice for future STEMinists?
Never think you’re not smart enough. For some reason science and math has gotten a reputation for being “too hard” and that’s absurd! Science is very intuitive and needs to be taught with care so that it is approachable and fun.

Also, if you’re looking for advice about graduate school – study, study, study, AND make friends with people in high places! Stay after class and talk to your professor about what you went over that day, write emails to researchers or scientists that impress you – get your face and name out there!

Favorite website or app:
I love science blogs and nothing is better than a website that brings you tons of science blogs all organized into specific areas of interest! www.ResearchBlogging.org

Twitter: @smallerquestions
Site: www.SmallerQuestions.org

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Danielle Lee, Biologist, Oklahoma State Univ.

Danielle N. Lee

Danielle N. Lee

Biologist / Post-doctoral Research Associate
Department of Zoology, Oklahoma State University



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I actually fell into it. I’ve always loved being outside and watching animals. When I went off to college, I was a pre-veterinary medicine major. I loved my Animal Science classes and did well. However, I was not accepted to Veterinary School; and I applied 4 times!! But I continued to take classes and started in a Master’s program in Biology.

My intention was to beef up my GPA and improve my biology background; but I ended up doing research and loving it! I had no idea that Animal Behavior was a career track. I love being a science researcher. As a kid, I was always asking adults questions about nature and animals. I didn’t always get very satisfying answers, even from teachers. In research I learned how to answer my own questions, and I find that to be a very exciting and empowering thing.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I think the project I’m scheduled to work on now might be my coolest project. I haven’t started the hard work, yet, but it is the coolest thing I’ve ever signed up to do: Studying bomb-sniffing rats from Africa. The African Giant Pouched rat, Cricetomys gambianus. A non-profit organization, APOPO, trains these rats to detect landmines and save lives. I’m part of project to learn more about the rats’ basic behavior. I am a biologist who studies animal behavior and I seem to have a specialty working with small mammals. The goal is to learn more about their natural history, such as their mating system, breeding biology, parenting behaviors and perhaps learn more about what makes some rats really great at detecting explosive materials.

Role models and heroes:
Dr. Charles Henry Turner – the first African-American Animal Behavior Scientist. Dr. Roger Arliner Young – 1st African American Woman to earn a Ph.D. in Zoology.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t be afraid to get dirty. I especially love studying animals outside. Often girls are told to be still and demure and be neat. No good discovery was made wearing clean clothes; and that’s the part of the job I love the most. I take that same philosophy with me in the classroom. Don’t be afraid to be front and center of your own academic process.

In college, I was a very enthusiastic student. Maybe some professors thought I was pushy. I look back on it, and yeah, I think I’ll have to agree. But no one will be a bigger advocate for you than you. When I was uncertain or confused I didn’t hesitate to ask questions or seek help; and that’s exactly how I am in the field. I’m always ready to get animals in hand, even if it means getting dirty.

Favorite website or app:
I love Twitter. I get most of my news and updates from it. Especially since I don’t have a TV, it’s become my closed captioning device.

Twitter: @DNLee5

Sites:
I have a blog at the Scientific American Blog Network: The Urban Scientist – A hip hop maven blogs on urban ecology, evolutionary biology & diversity in the sciences.

My academic web profile for the Department of Zoology of Oklahoma State University is here.

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Selena Deckelmann, Founder & COO, Prime Radiant

Selena Deckelmann

Selena Decklemann

Founder & COO
Prime Radiant, first product is Checkmarkable

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My parents often pushed me toward the sciences, helping me get into advanced classes and advocating for me when a guidance counselor in 8th grade told me that if I didn’t want to be a mathematician I shouldn’t bother taking advanced math classes.

I am so grateful to my Mom for having words with principals, teachers and academic counselors about my classes. I was a “kid that didn’t play well with others” at a young age – which I’m sure was hard for my mom, and more than a little annoying for my teachers. Without her advocating for me, I’m sure I would have ended up in a lot of trouble AND in boring classes.

Another great thing my Mom did was get me playing the violin (I’d wanted to play cello, but they ran out!) in the fourth grade. Orchestra was as close to a team sport as I was going to get until I figured out I could run cross country late in high school. She probably regretted all that music stuff when I tried to start a degree in music performance! But, in the end, I settled on computer science.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I’ve worked on is PostgreSQL, an open source database. I’ve been invited to every continent, except Anarctica, to speak about databases and open source.

In January, I went to Ballarat, Australia to talk about learning from failure in software development! And while there, I went jogging among hundreds of butterflies and a little pack of kangaroos.

Now, I’m starting a new company. This is only a few months old, and it’s exciting and terrifying. But it feels a lot like my work on open source – where the goal is to take over the world with our awesome ideas.

Role models and heroes:
Dr. Leah Beuchley – for her focus on what’s human, beautiful and functional about Arduino
Matthew Garrett – for his appreciation of the people in free software, and his sense of humor
Karen Sandler – for her passion, dedication to freedom and careful, clear thinking
Richard Stallman – for his pursuit of freedom
Tom Lane – for his love of Postgres
Marina Tsvetaeva – for her wit, sarcasm and love of language
Sylvia Plath – for her expressive sadness and poetry
Scott Deckelmann – my husband, for his love of teaching

Advice for future STEMinists?
Find your people! When I got a job in the Computing Center, I knew I’d found the place for me. It was rarely work – even when dealing with angry customers or unsolvable problems. I always had coworkers to commiserate with, and new, fascinating puzzles to solve. Free and open source software was the second place where I found a home. It’s hard to express how much I feel at home with the people I know in FOSS communities – they’re family.

Favorite website or app: PostgreSQL

Twitter: @selenamarie
Site: chesnok.com