Monthly Archives

June 2012

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Dustyn Roberts, NSF Graduate Research Fellow

Dustyn Roberts

Dustyn Roberts

National Science Foundation
Graduate Research Fellow, Ph.D. Candidate

Polytechnic Institute of NYU


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My dad was an engineer and I was always good at math and science, so I chose a college with a strong engineering program. After a year or two I settled into mechanical and biomedical engineering and have really enjoyed it.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I got to work on part of the Mars Curiosity rover that’s currently on its way to Mars.

Role models/heroes:
Yoky Matsuoka.

Why do you love working in STEM?
The more I learn the more I understand how the world works, and my STEM based education gives met the ability to ask interesting questions and be able to answer them, both through theory and experiments.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Stay curious. Years of calculus can dull the spark in some budding engineers, but keep at it. Also, don’t let the male/female gender ratio get you down. Most men I know have a great deal of respect for women in engineering because they know we had to sometimes go through more to get where we are.

Favorite website or app:
HootSuite for managing social media, Adafruit Industries Circuit Playground for tech.

Twitter: @dustynrobots
Website: www.makingthingsmove.com

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Sara Caldwell, Molecular Biologist

Sara Caldwell

Sara Caldwell

Molecular Biologist

Associate Scientist Level



Organization: A small molecular diagnostics start-up company. We specialize in two main types of diagnostic assay development: human genetic diagnostics and pathogen identification.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always liked biology in high school, but I was never sure about what I specifically wanted to study. That is, until I took an Introduction to Biotechnology course at James Madison University (Duuuuukes!). I immediately loved the potential and variety of career choices in molecular biology. DNA-based research is conducted in almost every life science discipline nowadays and molecular biology lab skills are useful across all of them.

I thought this career choice gave me the most options later in life. I could continue to work in a lab, move into sales, work in regulation, write code for data analysis, or eventually pursue a Ph.D. and teach while I perform research at a university. I’m a person who likes options, to say the least, and this field offered a variety of choices. Everything grows quickly and it’s exciting. It can be chaotic at times, but I love it.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I’m currently working in assay development for a genetics diagnostics assay. It tests for a whole panel of genetically inherited disorders for a fraction of the cost of traditional sequencing. I’m incredibly excited to see where it goes and how it fares in the market. Other cool fact—I’ve worked with 50+ strains of influenza. That was a former job, but it makes a good party conversation starter.

Role models/heroes:
Hillary Clinton. Yes, I know she isn’t a scientist. I grew up with Hillary’s transition from First Lady to Secretary of State. She is never hesitant to speak her mind, remains true to herself, and definitely presents herself as a lady. This is challenging in a field dominated by powerful male lawyers and she has risen to meet it. Whether you love or hate her pink suit and her politics, you have to admire a woman who buys a round of Crown Royal on the campaign trail, right? All joking aside, she is someone whose presence could have disappeared in her husband’s scandal. Now she is one of the most powerful people in U.S. politics. This takes an admirable amount of tenacity and strength. It is impressive to say the least.

Why do you love working in STEM?
STEM translates into potential. Every day there are new advancements in technology that have the potential to completely transform our life experience. It is thrilling to be a part of that development and is a huge source of motivation. Who could have known 50 years ago that we would be analyzing DNA sequences electronically on a computer? Or even about DNA’s existence? It is amazing to say the least. The ability to improve our daily lives is incredible and definitively my favorite thing about the field.

Advice for future STEMinists?
You aren’t “too girly” for science and math. Engineers are not all socially awkward men. Being a scientist, engineer, or mathematician does not mean you are married to your work instead of a man. Do not doubt yourself. If you know you know it, flaunt it. Do not hesitate. Yes, there are salary discrepancies. Do not settle for an employer that allows them. There are an increasing number of women in STEM, but we need to show some confidence. Above all: believe in yourself. You have to. No one else is going to take you seriously if you do not take yourself seriously first.

Favorite website or app:
Science news: Science Daily, Lab Spaces
Blogs/Tumblrs: This is What A Scientist Looks Like, Scientific American Bloggers, It’s Okay to Be Smart

Twitter: @SciencingSara
Website: Geeking & Drinking

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Christina Fuentes, Postdoctoral Researcher in Cognitive Neuroscience

Christina Fuentes

Christina Fuentes

Postdoctoral Researcher in Cognitive Neuroscience

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was always interested in science, and as a teenager I became more interested in human behaviour. It wasn’t until my first semester at university, though, that I was introduced to the study of the biology behind psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and I was hooked. What could be more interesting than understanding why we think, feel, and behave as we do!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
For my Ph.D. research I worked with children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Working with them was at times challenging, but it was overall quite fun and always rewarding. Chatting with their families was also rewarding and enlightening; here is a group of people who are looking to science for answers not out of interest but out of need. I loved being able to answer some of their questions and was inspired by their will and insight. This experience has helped me remember that while there’s a lot to be learned through experiments, there’s also a lot to be learned from the people who live and work with patients every day, as well as the patients themselves!

Role models/heroes:
My Ph.D. adviser Amy Bastian taught me how to be a good researcher and a confident scientist. She’s now a close friend and I still look to her as a model of achieving a successful work-life balance. Additional inspiration came from members of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS). I was very involved with the group during my Ph.D. and this allowed me to meet a number of STEM women with a variety of careers outside of academia. Until then I had thought that the route to a professorship was my only option; these women opened my eyes to other exciting options that I had previously never considered.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I’m always learning new things! Working in STEM isn’t an outcome, it’s an ongoing learning experience. It’s all about asking “how?” and “why?”.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Work toward a field you’re interested in but keep your mind open to new directions. Also, don’t fall into a career path just because that’s what those before you have done. The best example of this is the traditional academic path of scientists into professorships, which I mentioned above. While this may be a great career for some, there are lots of great jobs out there for scientists; don’t limit yourself to the traditional!

Favorite website or app:
I couldn’t do without keeping in touch with friends and family via Facebook or keeping up with the latest news via Twitter.

Twitter: @CTFuentes

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Maille Lyons, Environmental Microbiologist

Maille Lyons

Maille (“Molly”) Lyons

Environmental Microbiologist/Research Scientist

Old Dominion University (ODU) and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC)



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My dad was a teacher and my hometown (Swansea, Massachusetts) was on the water – I knew I would be a marine scientist by the time I was 8. I had fantastic science teachers that encouraged me.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
It’s a Tie: (1) I studied the DNA of bacterial populations that live in the protective mucus layer of corals in the Florida Keys and (2) I studied aquatic bacterial communities that live near the ice edge of Antarctic waters –Both projects were exciting because they included travel to amazing places.

Role models/heroes:
Dr. Rita Colwell – she used intelligence and creativity to solve problems regarding cholera outbreaks in developing nations.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I have always loved discovery and that’s what science is all about: figure out what we know, what we don’t know, and add new information to our knowledge base.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Love what you do. Take the time to discover what you are passionate about and then figure out a way to work in that field. There are many pathways to the same destination, if you are persistent – you will succeed.

Favorite website or app:
Mine… http://science-fair-coach.com

Twitter: @sciencefairinfo

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Jessica Ball, Ph.D. Student in Volcanology

Jessica Ball

Jessica Ball

Ph.D. student in Volcanology
University at Buffalo, SUNY

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I got interested in geology when I was quite small—I used to live close to Washington, DC and one of my favorite things to do was visit the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. I went through a dinosaur phase and a rock phase like a lot of little kids do, but the difference with me was that I never outgrew them! I kept interested in it all through grade school, but it was in college that I really got hooked. I took a three-week geology field trip after my freshman year, and even though I struggled the whole time, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else for a career.

I really enjoy geology because it’s such a unique science. Not only do geologists get to spend time in the lab and the field, we get to incorporate pretty much every other branch of science you could think of, and a good chunk of engineering. In the course of my graduate career, I’ve needed to use chemistry, physics, thermodynamics, computer science, statistics, and a whole slew of other skills. Plus the field aspect can be really fun—I mean, who wouldn’t want to visit amazing and beautiful places while collecting data? I also think volcanoes are fascinating, so getting to study them is pretty much a dream come true for me.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
In terms of research, I haven’t had time to do a lot, but I think my thesis work in volcanology has been pretty cool. I study lava domes, which are constructions of silicic magma that erupt from a volcano and pile up over the vent. They also tend to collapse, and sometimes this happens because water has gotten into the dome and altered the rock, or gotten trapped in spaces where it gets heated and pressurized and destabilizes things. This is really important in terms of hazard assessment—if you know where the weak rock on a lava dome is, you can make some predictions about how it might collapse in the future.

My work is at a group of lava domes called Santiaguito, at the Santa Maria volcano in Guatemala. I’ve combined field mapping, rock and aqueous geochemistry, and satellite remote sensing to try and paint a comprehensive picture of the state of alteration in those domes, and we’ve found out some interesting things! The project itself was also exciting because I got the chance to go to Guatemala in the first place; it’s a beautiful country, and the people there are very welcoming. (It’s also full of volcanoes, which makes me happy as a volcanologist).

Role models/heroes:
There have been many people I could put into these categories, but there are a few that stand out for me. My entire undergraduate geology department at the College of William and Mary—particularly the professors—were a really great influence on me. They were demanding, but they genuinely loved their students and they were wonderful teachers. They were always pushing us to do better, try harder things, take chances. My undergrad advisor especially—he encouraged me to go on a field trip as a freshman that was tough even for the senior students, for example, and he never accepted less than my best effort in his classes. He was the one who made me realize what I needed to do to become a good geologist (which I hope I have!)

My current advisor at Buffalo is another person I aspire to be like. She’s a respected volcanologist and she knows a lot of people in our field, but she’s also really great at balancing her work and family life, and that’s something I appreciate as a woman. I also love that she guides her students but doesn’t discourage them from taking their work in new directions, even if she’s not familiar with them herself.

I guess the final two people that I’d name as heroes are my parents. They never, ever, not once, told me that I couldn’t do something. They put up with years of rock collections and countless museum visits and even (I kid you not) got me a seismograph for one birthday. They let me make my own decisions about what I wanted to do, and made it possible for me to go to the college I wanted, and have just been fantastic in so many ways. I owe them a lot.

Why do you love working in STEM?
The chance to discover new things about the world! As a volcanologist (and a geologist), I see myself as a kind of combination of detective and storyteller. Geologists get to think up really clever ways to find clues (data) about how the Earth works, but then we also get to turn those data into a fascinating story. I love when I can look at a rock or a landscape and find something to deduce about it—it’s like being able to see into the past.

Another thing I really like about working in STEM is that there’s always something new to learn about how to do your job. You can’t just learn a set of skills and then stop—you’re always needing to improve them, or adopt new and better techniques. Sometimes I’m just blown away by how cool the new techniques are, and that I get to use them!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t let anything—or anyone—discourage you from doing what you love! It’s the best thing in the world to enjoy your job. And make sure to surround yourself with people who believe in you and support what you’re doing, no matter how different it is from what they do. No one in my family is a geologist, and I’ll be the first to get a doctorate in science, but they’ve all encouraged me to pursue my dreams.

Favorite website or app:
The Global Volcanism Program website. Anything you want to know about an active volcano, they can tell you!

Twitter: @Tuff_Cookie
Website: my American Geophysical Union blog, Magma Cum Laude

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Bryn Lutes, Asst. Director for Teaching and Technology

Bryn Lutes

Bryn Lutes

Assistant Director for Teaching and Technology
The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have always loved to read, learn new things, and occasionally conduct science experiments at home. When I was in middle school, my parents gave me a microscope kit for Christmas, and the main thing I remember about it is that I refused to follow any of the provided instructions because I wanted to make up my own experiments. I had a decent interest in biology, but LOVED chemistry when I finally took it in high school.

I’ve also always been fascinated with women fighting to break into traditionally male occupations and activities–especially when it involved disguising themselves as men. If I had enjoyed analyzing and not just consuming literature as much as I loved science, my career choices could have been very different.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I can’t say that I’ve worked on anything cutting-edge. My dissertation research fell in the realm of “let’s poke it and see what happens” basic research. I can say that I felt the coolest when working on my undergraduate research project. I was given a project that had already failed for several Master’s students, and I was able to get some interesting results out of it.

Role models/heroes:
I have “met” so many amazing women via twitter that they definitely warrant a mention here. I also have to include Sophia Hayes, from my dissertation committee, who is currently the only female tenured faculty member in that chemistry department.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love learning new things, and I love that my background in chemistry helps me easily explore new topics in more depth than I could otherwise. One of the things I love about my current job is that I have projects that require learning new things all the time. My next project to tackle is in the computer programming/web design realm, and I am really excited to get started.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Keep on keepin’ on, girlfriend. Do what you love, and don’t ever feel like you have to be someone you are not in order “fit in.”

Favorite website or app:
My favorite app is definitely Evernote (though it also exists as a website), and at the moment my favorite website is Lifehacker.

Twitter: @technobryn

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Catherine Klapperich, Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering

Catherine Klapperich

Catherine Klapperich

Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering
Boston University



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was a lone wolf! I did school newspaper in high school and wasn’t really encouraged in science by teachers. I intended to go to Northwestern to study journalism and changed to the school of engineering in my first semester — simply because I thought it was cool!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
What I do now is very cool! But the project that hooked me was part of a freshman seminar course at NWU. We were allowed to use the SEM in the Materials Science Department to do any project we chose. I looked at bugs, up close and personal. They let me use the machine by myself, and at 18 years old, that felt like incredible power!

Role models/heroes:
My graduate mentor, Lisa Pruitt and my post doc mentor, Carolyn Bertozzi. I owe so much to both of them.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love my job because I am in charge of my intellectual life. There is no substitue for that kind of freedom.

Advice for future STEMinists?
The best “outreach” you can do is to be a good example to others. Work hard, be creative and be nice!

Favorite website or app:
Twitter and Mendeley!

Twitter: @DrKlapperich
Website: www.bu.edu/klapperich, www.facebook.com/klapperichlab

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Erica Mauter, Sr. Validation Engineer, Teva Pharmaceuticals

Erica Mauter

Erica Mauter

Senior Validation Engineer
Teva Pharmaceuticals

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I had a vague sense of being interested in science and engineering as far back as grade school. What cemented it for me was, during high school, seeing a show on PBS about biomedical engineers who analyzed Olympic athletes to improve their training. These engineers worked on athletes’ form and also on equipment athletes used to train. I played sports, so this practical application was illuminating for me.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Outside of my day job, I love playing with my websites. I’ve been a blogger for almost 10 years; in addition to my personal blog, swirlspice, and my namesake ericamauter.com, I’ve had a few niche interest projects come and go. I’m not a developer or a designer by any stretch, but playing with features and code-y bits has long been a fun pastime for me. Bonus: through my web presence, I’ve met a lot of really great friends and people who do amazing things in technology and the business of technology.

Role models/heroes:
lynne d johnson has long been someone I look up to. She’s truly a pioneer in every facet of the modern web. She’s been producing content, managing online communities, and doing digital marketing since way before most people knew what those things were. The first time I met her was at the 2006 BlogHer conference; I saw her in a hallway and totally went all fangirl and blurted out, “Oh my god, you’re lynne d johnson!” I’m now pleased to call her a good friend as well.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love having these skills that not everyone has. STEM work is not easy, but it’s a good match for what I happen to be good at doing, and that makes it rewarding. Also, being in validation, I do a lot of technical writing. There’s an art to writing a document that’s technically accurate and comprehensive, that speaks to and satisfies regulatory requirements, and that is still comprehensible by a non-expert. In that sense, it’s quite creative work.

Advice for future STEMinists?
There is a wider variety of jobs for STEM majors than you can even imagine, so do your research. For example, I did my first internship at a food company, in R&D. My project was to figure out how to make a cereal stay crispier longer in milk (aka, “extend its bowl life”). Also, if you’re graduating with a degree in a STEM field, you are a smart, capable person and you absolutely deserve to be well-compensated for your work. Negotiate your salary offers. Always ask for more. Read the book “Women Don’t Ask” for help with that.

Favorite website or app:
Just one?! Unpossible! Okay, I’ll name Instapaper as my favorite app. It lets you save web pages for reading at a later time and in a more readable form. My favorite website is Racialicious, “a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture.” It’s eye-opening, and the perspectives generally apply to people existing in any non-dominant aspect of culture, including women.

Twitter: @swirlspice
Website: swirlspice.com

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Sara Callori, Physics Ph.D. Candidate

Sara Callori

Sara Callori

Physics Ph.D. Candidate working on ferroelectrics
Stony Brook University

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always loved science growing up. My parents always supplied me with science kits and took me to museums and science centers. I ended up attending a science magnet high school and it took me until my junior year to start liking physics. From there, I had a meandering path to physics. I liked music and free stuff so I thought I’d work in the music industry. But after internships in the industry I found the work boring and wasn’t intellectually interesting. So I turned back to physics.

I thought I would end up becoming a high school teacher because I love teaching. (I worked at the education department of a zoo during my college summers.) I love sharing the excitement of science with others because I think people too often thing science, especially physics, is very daunting. Then, I took a “Solid State Physics” class in college and was fascinated by the material and experiments in the field. It was that class that made me want to go to graduate school and keep learning and doing physics.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My favorite experimental technique to work with is x-ray diffraction. This is a technique were we use x-rays to determine how atoms in materials are basically stacked together to make up the material. Usually we make samples of our materials first and then do x-ray measurements on them to look at the final structure. But for my favorite experiment, we have set up a growth chamber at the synchrotron x-ray source at Brookhaven National Lab. What we do there is use x-rays to look at the structure of certain ferroelectric materials grow while they are growing. I think it’s amazing that we can observe, in real time, the growth of material layers that are less than half a nanometer thick.

Role models/heroes:
Two of my favorite scientific role models are Rosalind Franklin and Hedy Lamar. Rosalind Franklin has a very interesting story because she strove so hard to be a strong scientist when women scientists weren’t respected. She also worked on x-ray crystallography, which is one of my favorite fields.

As for Hedy Lamar, most people know her as an old movie star. But she also co-invented a way of encoded communication that was used in WWII and served as the basis for a lot of different communication technology. I love that she is someone that combines glamour and science. I find that too many people think science is scary or the domain of old, white guys. So I’d like people to see science the way I do, as something exciting and interesting and yes, even sometimes sexy.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working in STEM both because I get to “do science” and interact with people about it. By the first part of that, I mean I get to work to make new materials and discover things about them that no one has seen before. And sometimes, what we find is surprising, so when you find something not only new, but unexplained, well that’s just amazing.

I also enjoy the communication aspect of working in STEM. I find science fascinating and exciting and I love to help other people see this side of science. Whenever I tell people that I work in physics, it almost always turns into an opportunity to get people to see physics as it really is (and physicists as they really are!) and not as a stereotype.

Advice for future STEMinists?
If you know that a STEM career is for you, get an early start. You don’t have to be in tenth grade with a full time summer lab job, but keep on the lookout for interesting programs, internships, or opportunities to work in scientific settings. Also, be open to trying new things in science. If you’re curious about both the chemistry of the oceans and observing far away black holes, try both. Combine this with an early start and you will have a lot of opportunities to find out what type of science you are passionate about.

Also, don’t underestimate how important your communication skills are. A lot of people think that to be successful in STEM careers all you need to be is good at doing science. But an integral part of these fields is helping others understand what you are doing and why it’s important.

Favorite website or app:
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comics – There are always so many super funny comics about math and science. Either that or a number of celebrity gossip sites, because that’s definitely my guilty pleasure.

Twitter: @SaraDoesScience
Website: saradoesscience.tumblr.com

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Charlyn Partridge, Temporary Assistant Professor, Biology

Charlyn Patridge

Charlyn Partridge

Temporary Assistant Professor, Biology
University of South Alabama



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have just always loved science. I remember being around 6 or 7 and my parents bought me a little play microscope. I would go out to our swimming pool during the fall and winter (when we were not cleaning it constantly) and dip out water and just stare at all of the microscopic life it contained. When I was 13 I decided that that was what I wanted to do forever.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project thus far has probably been the main project from my dissertation. I looked at how a particular endocrine disruptor, EE2, impacted secondary trait expression in pipefish. Pipefish are sex-role reversed so sexual selection acts stronger on females than on males. Because of this, females have evolved both permanent and temporary bands that they display during courtship. We found out that when you expose males to EE2 for as little as 10 days they develop these secondary sex traits and that females tend to avoid mating with exposed males. Currently we are looking at how this may impact the strength of sexual selection on a population scale.

Role models/heroes:
As a scientist, I would have to say Barbara McClintock. She had a passion for science that I envy. Adam Jones and Ginger Carney: Adam was my PhD advisor and both he and his wife, Ginger, have an incredible ability to balance both their work and family life. As a mom, I have yet to discover how to excel in both areas at the same time.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I think the main reason why I love working in STEM is because I get the chance to answer questions that no one has ever asked. That is really a cool thing.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Do something that challenges you and always continue to learn. Once you become stagnant it is very hard to get back in the game.

Favorite website or app:
Evoldir. Love that site.

Twitter: @sciencegurlz0