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STEMinist Profile: Mallory Ladd, NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Chemistry & Climate Science

Mallory Ladd

NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Chemistry & Climate Science

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was always a curious kid and very lucky to have had super supportive parents and teachers who nurtured my curiosity and led me to science for answers from a very early age. Also though, I think a little part of me decided to pursue STEM in college because of everyone and anyone who said that I couldn’t. I wanted to prove them wrong and prove to myself that I could do it.

After my undergrad in chemistry, I was hooked. I decided to go to graduate school because I wanted to learn more about how to “do” research, and make new discoveries. I wanted to learn how to think like a scientist, and work on questions that could someday impact how we live. I wanted to make a difference in the world somehow, and science is what inspires me to try and do that each day.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The *coolest* project I’ve worked on is definitely the one I’m working on right now for my dissertation work, the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE-Arctic) project at ORNL! 😊 The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet and holds huge stores of carbon below ground, frozen in the permafrost. NGEE’s goal is to improve climate model predictions of how the Arctic is going to respond to warming temperatures in the future.

My research focuses on determining how the molecular composition of these permafrost soils may be driving the release of greenhouse gases from these systems, and if that chemical signature can be used as a predictor to help identify “hotspots” of vulnerability across the landscape. But the cool science isn’t my only favorite thing about this project…

Although the Arctic is generally known for its freezing temperatures, biting winds, and swarms of mosquitoes in the summer, getting out of the lab and visiting our field sites in Alaska to collect samples has been an invaluable opportunity to learn about the complexity of natural systems and just how much climate change is impacting Americans right now.

As a Department of Energy-led initiative, NGEE has given me the opportunity to work with chemists, biologists, computer scientists, and engineers, from universities and national laboratories from all around the country and meet people from all around the world. Being a part of a such a large interdisciplinary team has shown me a new perspective on how scientists from many different fields can, and must work together to tackle the world’s greatest problems and questions, including climate change.

Role models and heroes:
My family, friends, teachers, and faculty mentors in undergrad and graduate school have always been my greatest support system and source of inspiration. And in addition to every woman that came before me to blaze the trail for more us to pursue STEM, my role models also include all of my STEMinist colleagues in the Bredesen Center and at the University of Tennessee. They all come from such unique backgrounds and are tackling fascinating research questions. Pursuing a PhD is tough, but some of my colleagues are pursuing their PhD while also becoming a mom. I’d love to see a guy try and finish his PhD over a summer in South, while pregnant with twins… 😉

Why do you loving working in STEM?
Working in a STEM field has taught me to question everything, and think for myself. It’s too easy to get caught up with reading the latest viral article on the internet and take it as fact. Part of becoming a scientist is learning how to “zoom out”, think about everything as objectively as possible by looking at it from multiple angles, make conclusions based on facts and the best data available, and then keep asking more questions. For me, science turns “I don’t know” into “I don’t know yet…” and that’s what inspires me every day.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Some of the best advice I received early on was that each STEM field has its own unique culture and being aware of that culture when choosing a field to work in, or when trying to communicate between fields, can be extremely helpful. Until more recently, these science cultures have mostly been shaped by white men.

Being in a science field may seem unfamiliar or even uncomfortable at times. There will be days where you question whether you want to stay in your STEM field. With every woman that perseveres through the tough days, and succeeds in her field, we change that culture just that little bit more. Don’t change yourself to fit into the culture you see there. Stand out. Be different. Change the culture to include YOU. 🙂

Favorite website or app:
I wouldn’t be a good science communicator without shamelessly plugging my website and blog Think Like A Postdoc, which aims to help high school, undergraduate, and graduate students navigate working in a STEM field and to help bridge the gap between scientists in the lab and the broader public:

Twitter: @massspecmaven



STEMinist Profile: Rebecca Lobo, Postdoctoral Fellow

Rebecca Lobo

Postdoctoral Fellow

University of California-Davis

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My high school chemistry teacher was so passionate. I remember sitting in her class and thinking “This is so much fun!”. That’s what inspired me to be an undergraduate major in chemistry. As I studied the subject more, I realized how useful and practical chemistry was in its application to everyday life. I loved being the person who could translate food labels, decipher the ingredients in a lotion and figure out how to get old ink off a dry erase board using lotion (yay organic chem!!).

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My most interesting project to date is my postdoc work on HuangLongBing (HLB) disease. It can be likened to the Ebola of the plant world. It is caused by a bacterium that kills citrus trees and has slashed citrus production in Florida by 50% already. There is no cure and, to date, no reliable early detection test.

I head a collaborative project to develop an early detection test for HLB. I am able to use my chemistry, coding and management skills to help save citrus! How cool is that?

Role models and heroes:
My current professor, Dr. Carolyn Slupsky
Dr. Robert Cardiff
Isaiah Hankel
Cassey Ho

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I love being able to make a difference in society.
I love being able to understand and explain chemistry.
It makes me feel kickass, like I can do anything, because really, if I set my mind to it, I can!

Advice for future STEMinists?
You can achieve anything as long as you believe in yourself.

Ignore people who tell you you cannot do something or who put you down. Usually that means they are threatened by you.

Women operate differently than men. You are not less talented/weird/not cut it for science just because you communicate or approach problems differently. Look around the room. You may just be the minority (in lots of different ways) and your mentors and peers may not understand you. Embrace your differences, delve deep into them, understand them and make them your strengths.

Favorite website or app:
Can I go with favorite software? Mathematica!


Chemists call for boycott over all-male speaker line up

An open letter on the website has called for a boycott of the 15th International Congress of Quantum Chemistry (ICQC), to be held in Beijing in June 2015. The move came after a list was posted on the conference website that allegedly showed no women among 24 speakers and five chairs and honorary chairs. The list, screenshots of which were seen by Nature, has since been taken down.

[ via Nature News ]


The Elsevier Foundation honors Early Career Women Scientists from Developing Countries for Research

On February 15th, 2014, five women chemists will be honored with the Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World, for their research that looks to nature for ways to address cancer, malaria and other medical problems. The winning researchers, representing five regions of the developing world, are from Indonesia, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

[ via Elsevier ]


‘Stemming the tide’ of women leaving chemistry

Recent studies have shown that there are still hurdles that women have to overcome, but successful departments have felt the benefit of mentoring and creating a supportive environment. More still needs to be done to help fix the leaky pipeline – and some of the problems, such as wider societal perceptions and expectations, are bigger than the departments they affect. However, by continual monitoring and increased awareness, the proportion of female senior scientists should improve.

[ via Chemistry World ]


Short film “A Chemical Inbalance” interviews women chemists in UK

We get numbers to quantify the gender disparity in academic chemistry in the UK, as well as to identify where in the career pipeline the disparity becomes worse. We also get numbers about how women chemists are paid relative to their male counterparts, and about relative rates of tenure that can’t be blamed on choices about childbearing and/or childrearing.

[ via Scientific American ]


STEMinist Profile: Barbara Holtz, Business Executive, MaterialsDesign

Dr. Barbara Holtz

Business Executive


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was very good at math and interested in technology from a very young age. I also grew up in East Germany where there was much less choice for studies in Social Sciences, Languages and Humanities—especially when you were not “aligned” with the system. Also: in East Germany women were much more assertive and studying a “male” subject was less of an exception.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
After studying physics and teaching at a University for a year I joined a company which makes scientific software. Instead of working in Development I started to work in Sales, selling technology and highly complex software to scientists is a very rewarding career for myself.

The most exciting project was a few years ago when a major chemical company decided to start a new research group and I worked very closely with the Manager of that group, not only eventually selling our technology but also placing a scientist as a contract research scientist with that group. Apart from that my sales role has given me the opportunity to travel to many different countries, meeting many different cool people along the way.

Role models/heroes:
Marie Curie as a scientist, Ginni Rometty as a Business Leader and Angela Merkel as a physicist turned Chancellor.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Technology is all around us, most people take it for granted: new materials, new ways of communications, so many things. So being in close contact to how those technologies come about is very exciting every time. As a Sales person I manage to get to go to many different companies and see what is happening in their R&D departments, I have learned about flavours and fragrances, about polymers for everyday materials, about catalysts and consumer packaged goods such as shampoos.

Understanding the challenges that are coming with the development of new materials with new properties and their production satisfies my neverending curiosity. To give an example: shampoo makers are challenged to develop new shamposs which slide out of the bottle easily, but then not off your hand—we have all been in the shower and the shampoo does not behave as we would like it to—the requirements for those material properties are usually conflicting and never cease to amaze me. It makes me look at the world in a different way every day.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t just think of STEM as lab work, there are a million other jobs out there, which require the analytical skills which come with a STEM education. Marketing, Business, Support and Training jobs are just as important to scientists and require STEMinists. Those jobs can be fitted around normal family life as well. Later in a career there are possibilities to turn years of experience into a freelance consulting job or on the way there is a chance to start your own business, who knows….

Favorite website/app:
LinkedIn and Twitter.

Website: LinkedIn
Twitter: @holtzbarbara


STEMinist Profile: Eunice Nuekie Cofie, President and Chief Cosmetic Chemist

Eunice Nuekie Cofie

President and Chief Cosmetic Chemist
Nuekie, Inc.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
As an African-American woman, I had always been made to feel that I was not beautiful because of my ethnicity. I was often picked on by my peers because of my dark skin and kinky hair as a child and remembered crying endlessly about the hurtful comments that damaged my self-esteem. My saving grace was my father’s encouragement for me to pursue an understanding of science. My father would spend countless hours teaching me how to conduct science experiments as little girl which led me to have a strong love for it and science became my strength. I understood that I may not be the prettiest girl in the room but I could be the smartest girl in the room. This love led me to major in chemistry as an undergraduate student at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

One day while in my organic chemistry lab class, my eyes were opened to the world of cosmetic science. My professor wanted my classmates and I to understand how to practically apply organic chemistry to our everyday lives. So he decided to have us create lotions and hair relaxers instead of conducting the regular lab experiments. I was bitten by the creative bug and began working alongside my professor learning as much as I could about cosmetic science.

I discovered in my research that the pigment of my skin was created by a substance in our cells called melanin which led me to realize that those cells were divinely placed there and that my skin color did not make me inferior. I also realized that the cosmetic and the dermatological industry lacked effective treatments that took into account the unique structure and function of ethnic skin and hair. I realized at that moment this was the path that I wanted to take. My dream was to close the gap in the quality of treatment products available to ethnic people.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My current project that I am working on for my company is a product-line which will treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark marks on the skin) in ethnic skin. I am excited about the launch of my company’s first product-line this fall.

Role models/heroes:
One of my heroes is Madam C.J. Walker for her entrepreneurial spirit which led her to become the first female millionaire. I appreciate how she was able to take an idea and develop it with the resources she had around her. My other hero is Janice Bryant-Howroyd, Founder and CEO of ACT-1 because she is able to translate her Christian faith into doing well in business and in her community.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working as cosmetic chemist because I have an opportunity to change lives by inspiring ethnic men and women to discover they are perfect in beauty.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Pursuing a Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics (STEM) career as women, especially as a woman of color, can be quite challenging due to the social constructs which do not heavily encourage women to assume roles in this field of work. I would say do not be afraid to take the lead and to realize you have everything within you to succeed! I would also encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship in the STEM and bring new innovations to our society that will create world-class companies and increase job growth.

Favorite website or app:

Twitter: @nuekie