STEMinist Profile: Patricia Verrier, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Mathematics

Patricia Verrier

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Department of Mathematics, University of Portsmouth



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I think it was the subject itself! I’ve always wanted to do something that involved maths, for as long as I can remember (except for a few weeks at primary school, when apparently I wanted to be an ice skater). I was also very keen to work in a field that involved planets and space exploration, although this may be attributable to a misspent youth reading too much science fiction!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The project I’m currently working wins this one. I’m helping design orbits for solar sail space missions. Solar sails are a type of spacecraft that use radiation pressure as a means of moving around the Solar System (or beyond). They’ve been around as an idea in science fiction for ages, but are now starting to become a feasible technology. The maths involved is really interesting and the project is aiming to find practical applications in space exploration too, so it’s just a brilliant topic to work on.

Role models/heroes:
Currently the whole of Team GB, especially the women’s rowing squad!

Why do you love working in STEM?
There are a lot of reasons! But getting to do maths all day and getting to work on cool projects are two of the main ones. Being able to do something both challenging and enjoyable as a job is just fantastic.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t give up, no matter how frustrating things get!

Favorite website/app:
I think it has to be www.xkcd.com.

Twitter: @dynamicist

STEMinist Profile: Orla Kelly, Ion Optics Design Engineer

Orla Kelly

Ion Optics Design Engineer

University of Bristol and Photek (in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership)


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Even though the majority of my female friends in school studied things like ‘Health and Social Care’, I always wanted to do maths and science. I thought I would go on to become a civil engineer like my older brother, but he convinced me it would be too tough because I’m a girl! Although, I actually think he was worried that I would be better than him. I ended up choosing to study Physics and Applied Maths at university, hoping it would keep my options open for career choices later on.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project was during my PhD, where I used really powerful lasers to blow up molecules to see what they are made of. These lasers are so powerful, they can set paper on fire and cause sparks in the air. It was like magic being able to slice up these invisible molecules and detect the different parts. When I describe it using the scientific terms, it sounds a little less cool (electrostatic ion trap mass spectrometry using intense, femtosecond photoionisation). Now my job is to design the instruments to allow these experiments to happen, which is pretty cool too!

Role models/heroes:
This is a corny response, but my role models are the people I am surrounded by each day. At university, all my peers were doing cool, interesting projects that were really inspiring. And now in my job, I’m in awe of the people that have taken their scientific background and made a business out of it.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love the challenge, how every day can bring something new. I love how what I do is different to the norm. It is pretty fantastic being surrounded by clever people doing clever things, and I love that I am a part of it.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t let negative people put you down. Some people are rubbish and will stereotype you (like my brother did telling me I couldn’t be a civil engineer!). Keep doing what you do best, as that’s the best way to break stereotypes and change opinions.

Favorite website/app:
www.xkcd.com for some humour to brighten your day (not that I always understand it…). Be sure to hover over the cartoon to get the alternative text too!

www.guardian.co.uk has some great science blogs that entertain and inform (sometimes with great discussions from readers underneath too).

Website: www.ultrafastbelfast.co.uk
Twitter: @orlakellybell

STEMinist Profile: Sarah Bisbing, PhD Candidate, Forest Ecologist

Sarah Bisbing

PhD Candidate, Forest Ecologist

Colorado State University – Graduate Degree Program in Ecology



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have to say that I had no idea I would end up growing up to be a scientist. I have always been creative and curious, and I have always had a deep love of plants. But, I’m from a city-centric family. My family thinks that trips to Lincoln Park (Chicago) and Central Park (NYC) are outdoor adventures. I now work in truly challenging field sites (rainy southeast Alaska, anyone?). Who would have thought?

A fascination with ecosystem composition and function is what really drew me in. I just had to know. Two professors in my undergraduate career, Dr. Paul Alaback and Dr. Tom DeLuca, inspired me – so much so that I went on to get a Master’s degree under their direction. But, I guess I really just followed my passion. Ecology allowed me to explore, ponder, question, problem solve, and be creative.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
One of my dissertation projects is the coolest project I’ve ever worked on. I’m quantifying genetic diversity and gene flow across the range of Pinus contorta (the most widespread pine in western North America). To sample the species for genetic analysis, I traveled across the entire range of the species (from southern California north through Canada to southeast Alaska and east into the Rocky Mountains). This sampling trip allowed me to see the incredible diversity of natural ecosystems across the west AND learn about the ecology of my species.

Role models/heroes:
I am inspired by passionate scientists. There are so many that it is really hard to name only a few.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I learn so much each and every day. There are infinite questions to ask and answers to pursue. I cannot imagine a more exciting, more challenging career.

Advice for future STEMinists?
You CAN do this. Do what you are passionate about, and everything will fall into place.

Favorite website/app:
Well, our Early Career Ecologists blog, of course.

Website: warnercnr.colostate.edu/~sbisbing
Twitter: @SarahBisbing

STEMinist Profile: April Lowell, Ph.D. candidate in Molecular and Cellular Biology

April Lowell

Ph.D. candidate in Molecular and Cellular Biology

Brandeis University



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Growing up and throughout my adult life, I have always been very curious about how and why things work the way they do in our bodies and in Nature in general. Some of my favorite discussions and introspective moments revolve around why we are the way we are and how life on earth works. Since I excelled in my biology classes throughout my education and had a genuine interest in my laboratory classes, I felt that I would enjoy a career in science research and communicating my work to others.

I also really wanted to pursue a career that could make a contribution and help other people in some way, and I felt that I could do this through medical and scientific advances or just through educating others about science and introducing them to new and interesting ideas.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
This is a tough one because I value a lot of the projects I have had. I am currently working on understanding the molecular mechanisms and neuronal circuitry of thermosensation in fruit flies and this is cool because it gives us an understanding of how organisms in general sense heat and pain, as well as certain aversive chemicals. But I do still have a strong fondness for the work that I did as a technician in a cancer research lab before graduate school.

My colleagues and I did a lot of work to understand how different chemotherapy drugs can have different effects on proteins in cancer cells and the cell cycle. This type of work is important because not all cancers of the same tissue are alike and so some drugs may work better for some patients versus others. We gained knowledge about which drugs may work better for cancers with particular types of mutations. I liked the fact that this work had a direct connection with helping patients who were in and will be in clinical trials for these drugs.

Role models/heroes:
While I have had a few great mentors and teachers including high school biology teachers and postdoc fellows who have trained and guided me, my first hero and role model has always been my father. He has always encouraged me in my interest in science since I was a young girl, asking me a lot of questions in response to my questions about life and how things work in the universe. We would have long discussions sometimes considering what he knew to answer me and if he didn’t know the answer, what the possible answers might be.

And eventually if we couldn’t come up with the answers right then he would encouragingly say, “Well, maybe you can figure it out some day for us.” So, he has always had a big influence on how I approach questions and my interest in science and life in general. He has also always encouraged the importance of and been a great example of lifelong learning.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love it because I truly have a curiosity that cannot be quenched with just a single answer. I really want to know as much as I can about how life works and how it evolved here on earth. I love finding out new and surprising things that I never would have thought of before and it feels great when your experiments work and you find that your hypothesis seems to be right.

That being said, it certainly can be grueling, tedious, and disappointing fairly often too! But the payoff is in the understanding that I gain about how cells and molecules, neurons and systems, and diseases work. It’s the fascinating new knowledge that then makes me want to know more that keeps me going, as well as trying to reach my overall life goals.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Stamina. Stamina. Stamina. I find that working in science is often a test of endurance, so if you are sure that this is what you want to do (and you need to be sure in the long run), then just keep on chugging along and eventually you’ll accomplish your goals. That’s what I try to tell myself anyway! Try not to let the disappointing moments get you down too much and just keep putting one foot in front of the other, so to speak.

It also helps to have a good mentor (although I understand how those can be tricky to find) to bounce ideas off of and provide support when you need it. We all need help and collaboration in science and it’s important to talk things out, like what experiments are worthwhile and which ones are not. And I also highly recommend doing as much as you can to practice and polish up your presentation and communication skills, especially when presenting your work in a formal setting. Know your audience and keep it simple. The better people understand your work, the better and more helpful your feedback will be, which will hopefully lead to better experiments and a good reputation for positive communication.

Favorite website/app:
Too many good science pages to list, but Flybase.org is a classic & a must for Drosophila researchers. Also, Facebook and Twitter have become surprisingly good sources for great new science news because many official journals and associations can be followed and are active on them now.

Twitter: @AMLgirl

STEMinist Profile: Abbie Bellis Stringer, PhD Graduate in Chemical and Biological Engineering

Abbie Bellis Stringer

Recent PhD Graduate in Chemical and Biological Engineering

Northwestern University



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
In the 4th grade my class took a field trip to the FBI headquarters in Washington DC and as a part of the tour walked through the forensic chemistry/science lab. In a time before shows like Bones, NCIS and CSI, this was my first time realizing that science was more than bubbling colored liquids. Science could be used to solve problems (and catch the bad guys). Although I didn’t pursue the forensic sciences, since that day I’ve worked to find ways to apply science and math to solve complex problems.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The thesis work for my PhD involved the designing of an assay that could be used to better understand what is going on inside the communication network in live cells to try to better understand what make diseased cells different from healthy ones. We introduced cells with the luciferase reporter genes (luciferase is what makes fireflies butts glow) in order to monitor events within cells in culture by quantifying the light the cells are emitting.

Role models/heroes:
I’ve always looked up to Hilary Clinton. She is strong-willed, smart and holds her own in a world dominated by men.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love solving problems, I love being creative, and I love trying to understand the world around me.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Try to surround yourself and work with as diverse people as possible. Learn from your differences and find strength in them.

Favorite website/app:
I’m a big fan of FlipBoard on the iPad, it turns your Google Reader, Twitter and news into a picture-based, personalized magazine. I also love Pinterest for craft and cooking inspiration.

Website: About.me/abbiedbs
Twitter: @Abbiedbs

STEMinist Profile: Lydia Sites, Technology Services Engineer

Lydia Sites

Technology Services Engineer 1

KnowledgeWorks



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
It wasn’t something I initially set out to do but after working on a few basic tech issues, I discovered how enjoyable technology is and just had to learn more.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
One of my first projects was to configure our new help desk solution. I loved setting up and designing the way the product would function in our environment especially in terms of improving the user experience and our team’s efficiency. In addition to being a great learning experience, it summed up the primary objective of technology solutions: taking a great technology and implementing it in a way that answers the needs of the business unit.

Role models/heroes:
Hmmm…I would have to say Padsmaree Warrior is one of my favorite women in tech. Of course, she has accomplished so much in the industry but what I really like about her is the digital presence she has created. She posts about everything from Cisco news and info to haikus and the arts. I’m a big believer that it is important for STEM workers to be knowledgeable in the STEM field as well as personable and well-rounded.

Why do you love working in STEM?
It changes constantly, which means there’s very little chance that I will get bored. Right now is a very exciting time to be in technology. There are so many new developments and innovations, especially in the mobile, digital and start-up spaces.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Being a woman in a STEM field can be challenging at times but it can also be very rewarding. You have a unique perspective and approach to issues in day to day as well as project work. Having that fresh approach can lead to innovative and creative solutions. Embrace being the minority.

Favorite website/app:
I am a serious mobile enthusiast so this is almost impossible to decide! For apps, I would say it is a three-way tie between Sephora for iPad, Android’s Run Double and Evernote. For tech news and tips, I have several go-to’s but no absolute favorite.

Twitter: @lmsites

STEMinist Profile: Emily Mason, Ph.D. Candidate in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Emily Mason

Emily Mason

Ph.D. Candidate in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Vanderbilt University



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have a long history of wanting to experience EVERYTHING… I was all over the place as a kid! I wanted to be a writer, a large-animal veterinarian, a firefighter. My senior year of high school, I decided that forensic pathology was clearly the place for me so I went to college planning to go to medical school. As it turns out, it only takes a summer of working with corpses to decide not to spend a lifetime working with them and by my junior year I needed a new career path.

I had developed an unhealthy obsession with all of the nerdy media (PBS, NPR, Discovery Channel) and I was fascinated with how the mind works, so I decided to go into neuroscience research. Because science in the media was the inspiration for going into my career, I’m also interested in the communication of knowledge from scientists to non scientists in a way that is engaging for both.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Storytelling is what binds people together, and the older a person is the better their stories usually are. My research interest is Alzheimer’s disease primarily because it strips people of their personal stories and I am horrified by that concept. One of the major difficulties of Alzheimer’s is that diagnosis doesn’t occur until there is already severe and likely irreversible neuronal damage. At this point, even the most promising therapies would only slow the course of the disease.

In my opinion, Alzheimer’s disease can best be studied by examining humans non-invasively and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a great method for achieving that. For my thesis project, I’m attempting to validate state-of-the-art MRI techniques that could some day identify people who will likely develop Alzheimer’s decades before they experience any memory problems. These people can be enrolled in clinical trials at a time when treatment is most effective and Alzheimer’s pathology can be drastically slowed, prevented, or even reversed. We are at a time when there are tremendous advances being made in MRI, and it’s exciting to be part of the field!

Role models/heroes:
One of the reasons I never felt like I couldn’t be a woman in science is because several of my mentors have been brilliant, successful women. My academic advisor in college, Dr. Deb Martin, would wave off any insecurities I had about classes and just say, “Oh come on, I know you can do it, just go for it.” She gave me the confidence to succeed that I would have never had.

When I was working as a tech after college my mentor was Dr. Cheryl Conover. Her work with PAPP-A is incredible, but I admired her the most for the enthusiasm she showed every single day. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and dig into bench work. She is highly respected in the field, but she still made time to talk to me and give me invaluable career advice.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love my own work and find it fascinating, but one of my favorite parts of STEM is talking to and collaborating with other STEMers. Good scientists think their project is the coolest thing on Earth, and their passion makes science exciting.

Advice for future STEMinists?
First, I would say the same thing that my advisor said: “Oh come on, you can do it, just go for it!” Don’t ever let a gender disparity prevent you from pursuing what you want. Secondly, the best way to learn is to teach. Become a mentor for someone younger or less advanced than you and you will not only be helping someone else out, you will get a deeper understanding of your own work.

Favorite website/app:
Following intelligent people on Twitter has really helped me expand my science horizons and keep in touch with what’s going on in other disciplines. It can be great for learning, networking, or just passing the time when an assay is running. There is also a great project for becoming a pen pal to a 7th grader to instill in them a love of science. You’re only required to send four letters a year! You can find it here.

Website: adayinthelifesciences.com
Twitter: @ejmaso05

STEMinist Profile: Michelle Oyen, University Lecturer, Engineering

Michelle Oyen

Dr. Michelle L. Oyen

University Lecturer

Cambridge University, Engineering



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
It’s hard to remember! I was set on the idea of being an engineer by the time I was 10 years old. I loved math as a kid, and had a computer quite young (a Commodore 64 by age 7). I was always trying to take my toys apart and figure out how they worked.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Although I’ve had the chance to work on a number of very fun projects, including our tendency to use Lego robots in the lab (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBEtUJmp05w), my own favorite research work involves using engineering to try and study problem pregnancies, particularly in the context of understanding and preventing premature birth. People don’t think of engineering and human reproduction in the same framework, but there are actually a lot of very exciting opportunities in this area.

Role models/heroes:
My favorite early role model is Sophie Germain, who worked in both mathematics and elasticity far before it was easy for women to do so. My other favorite is Lillian Gilbreth, who was one of the early female industrial engineers but also famous from the books “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Belles on their Toes” about raising a large family in the early 20th century.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love knowing that there are so many opportunities for science and engineering to improve the human condition, through biomedicine and biomedical engineering, by using our engineering skills to be better stewards of the environment, and to apply our knowledge to real-world problems facing developing economies.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Be proactive and have a thick skin. I’d love to say that STEM subjects were gender-blind in the 21st century but I don’t think we’re there yet. Amazing change has been taking place since the start of the 20th century, and it’s going to be a few more generations until all of those working in STEM don’t blink when seeing female colleagues in a wide range of roles.

Favorite website/app:
Kindle app. I love having access to so many books (both technical and otherwise) at my fingertips no matter where I am or what hardware I’m using.

Twitter: @michelleoyen

STEMinist Profile: Boo Lewis, Ph.D. Candidate, Biological Sciences

Boo Lewis

Boo Lewis

Ph.D. Candidate

University of Bristol



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Both of my parents have science degrees, although neither of them works in science anymore, and they never thought anything was too complicated to explain. I was eight the first time I asked about brown eyed parents and blue eyed children and my Dad started telling me about heterozygosity.

What really did it for me was an amazing biology teacher I had from when I was 14 until I left sixth form. She’d done a PhD in virology and was always throwing in interesting facts that weren’t on the syllabus. She hated teaching us things that were in the exam but fundamentally wrong so she’d always explain afterwards how they really worked. I kept thinking that if I just studied biology for a bit longer I’d eventually know the whole truth! Now, of course, I know that nobody knows the whole truth.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I like to think that my PhD is really cool, although I’m not sure that anybody else would agree! I’m a geneticist and I look at a system called Mismatch Repair in bread wheat. It’s basically DNA proofreading and it prevents mutation. In humans, mutation is a bad thing: we know quite a lot about MMR because almost everyone with a certain kind of cancer has a broken MMR system. But in plants mutation isn’t always a bad thing: especially when you’re trying to breed new varieties.

Role models/heroes:
I don’t really have heroes, but there are a couple of women scientists who made me realise how much I was capable of achieving. Number 1 is Dr. Caroline Wilcox. She’s the teacher without whom I wouldn’t be a biologist. Number 2 is Prof. Jane Langdale who taught me genetics when I first started undergrad and is now the head of Plant Sciences at Oxford.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Every day is different. And nobody else in the world does exactly what I do. That’s a bit terrifying sometimes, but also really cool. Even when things don’t turn out the way you plan, you’re always learning something new.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Get used to telling yourself you can succeed, because nobody else is going to. That’s true for everyone, but especially as a woman in science. I wasn’t allowed to do A-level Physics because the teacher told me I wouldn’t cope, which is sort of ironic since I was always better at Maths and Physics than Biology!

Favorite website/app:
There’s a handful I use on virtually a daily basis: I’d be at a loss without Web of Science (for finding research papers) and CerealsDB (the BLAST-able database of the wheat genome).

For getting me through when nothing is working #WhatShouldWeCallGradSchool deserves a mention!

There’s also a heap of really good blogs like DoubleXScience and The Thesis Whisperer.

Website: bakingbiologist.wordpress.com
Twitter: @Boofimus

STEMinist Profile: Orit Shaer, Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Orit Shaer

Orit Shaer

Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Computer Science, co-director of Media Arts and Sciences

Wellesley College



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My first real exposure to computer science was during a chance encounter with an introductory programming course in my undergraduate studies. The challenge of solving difficult problems, the satisfaction of designing an elegant solution, and the thrill of building something with my own two hands, fascinated me. As the software programs I wrote became more advanced, I was energized by the potential of computing to impact the way we work, play, and learn.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My current research in Computer Science is in the field of Human-Computer Interaction, an area that is at the border between humans and computers, between the digital world and the physical world. This field is also uniquely positioned at the border between disciplines: computer science, psychology and arts, which makes it all the more exciting.

In my research group, the Wellesley College Human-Computer Interaction Lab, our goal is to invent and study easier, more effective and more enjoyable ways for people to interact with vast amounts of digital information.

One of our coolest projects, which we are currently working on, is to help biologists to analyze and manipulate large amounts of information so that they can develop scientific insights and make discoveries. We utilize advances in human-computer interaction such as multi-touch, tabletop and tangible interfaces to design and build new user interfaces that allow scientists to better organize, relate, and share information. It is exciting to see our interfaces used by scientists and students to study diseases such as Tuberculosis.

Role models/heroes:
I was fortunate to meet some incredible men and women throughout my career. My advisors at Tufts University, Rob Jacob and Diane Souvaine inspired me in their leadership of their professional community and their commitment to educating and mentoring a next generation of scientists.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Computer science in general, and human-computer interaction in particular, are inherently interdisciplinary fields. My research draws upon multiple area of expertise and perspectives, so I often work with a diverse range of collaborators. Each new project presents a new range of problems that require learning new topics and skills, applying creativity, and facing new challenges. I love the intellectual stimulation and the life-long learning.

Also, being engaged in human-computer science research allows me to get insight into the future and to participate in shaping it. In my field of study, science and innovation are tightly coupled and many of the current investigations in human-computer interaction will inform the tools, gadgets, and devices that we will use in the future.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Attend talks and conferences in your field to find out what are the current trends in research, make connections, and inspire your creativity.

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) is a fantastic 3-day conference that brings together women in computing from various backgrounds, from undergraduate students to top industry and academia leaders. It is a great opportunity to network, attend workshops on academic and professional development, learn about and share your own experiences with other women.

Favorite website/app:
Springpad: a smart notebook that provides a great way to organize and share documents.

Website: http://cs.wellesley.edu/~oshaer
Twitter: @oshaer