Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Catherine Pratt, Grad Student, Biochemistry/Developmental Biology

Catherine Pratt

Catherine Pratt

Graduate Student
Brown University



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
When I was in high school I would bug my Mum all the time to let me come to work with her. As a veterinary surgeon she got to do some pretty cool things, and I loved watching her and the other vets do their job. I remember being very proud of myself for making it through a rather nasty orthopedic operation on a dog. The vet school student, on the other hand, fainted rather dramatically.

So a career in veterinary medicine seemed to be the direction I was headed in…until I visited my Aunt’s biochemistry lab. There was something about the smell of the lab, the ticking of the geiger counter, the humming of the fume hood. I was only 16 at the time, so there was very little I could actually do, but I had fallen in love. I applied to college to study biochemistry, spent every summer in some lab or other, and after spending the year after graduation as a lab technician, applied and was accepted to the graduate program in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry at Brown University.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I should be honest here and explain the jadedness that can hit a grad student who has been working on the same project for 5 or 6 years. Things that seemed cool at the outset often morph into the stuff of nightmares. Hypotheses become twisted, experiments that worked last week fail this week, and your confidence takes beating after merciless beating. But I digress. When I began the project that I am currently writing up for publication, it was the coolest thing ever! I have been very lucky to have a P.I. who lets me do what I want to do, as long as she thinks it’s a reasonable idea.

So when I came to her with a list of predicted miRNA binding sites for the mRNA that we study, she let me take that project on and test whether these regulatory molecules were indeed causing the biological effects we see in our system. As the project grew there were these little blips of pure joy as our hypothesis was proved positive. These blips, at least for me, are too scarce, and in my memory the last couple of years have been extremely challenging. In that time, though, I discovered my passion for science communication and started my blog. In it’s own way, that website has been the coolest project I have ever worked on!

Role models/heroes:
My most influential role models over the last decade have been my Aunt and my advisor. In different ways they have each shown me how to be a great scientist and a great woman, and that those two things do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Why do you love working in STEM?
As someone who is leaving academia to focus on STEM communication, I often find myself contemplating what I will miss. I keep coming back to the conversations and the camaraderie. A lab is more than just a place where people in white coats churn out data for publication; it’s a family. We are all working towards a common goal, but as we chase that goal we need the odd pep talk, or to see the latest YouTube clip that went viral, or a beer at the end of the week. It’s that community of smart, fun, like-minded people that I will miss being around every day.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Do it. Don’t be intimidated. Ask questions. Make sure you have a support network, whether it be friends, family, colleagues, or all of the above. And don’t be afraid to ask for help (both in and out of the lab).

Favorite website or app:
Twitter. By a MILE!!! It’s a great place to meet other scientists, get help with experiments, and keep abreast of what’s going in other fields of research.

Twitter: @Katie_PhD
Website: www.katiephd.com

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