STEMinist Profile: Charlotte Robin, PhD student

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Charlotte Robin

PhD student

University of Liverpool



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I am naturally a very practical person, and have always enjoyed making things – from finger painting to flat-pack furniture! When I was younger, I had no intentions of pursuing a career in STEM, it just kind of happened!

I enjoyed doing research during my degree, but had no idea that it could be a career. When I was offered a job as a research assistant for a veterinary charity I was thrilled, and that was when I realised I wanted to be an epidemiologist. Since then I have worked on numerous research projects, done another Master’s degree and have just started my PhD in Public Health. So really, I am just at the beginning of my career!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I like to think that all the research projects I have worked on, or have helped with have contributed to improving the health and welfare of the animal or human population in some way. However, I am most proud of my PhD project. I am part of a new Health Protection Research Unit, focusing on emerging zoonotic infections. As a PhD student, it’s great to be part of such a talented and supportive group and to be doing research in such an exciting area. The Institute of Infection and Global Health is also an Athena SWAN bronze award holder, so it’s the perfect environment for a young, female academic such as myself to be working in.

Role models and heroes:
My mum. She worked incredibly hard to raise and support three children, and has taught me that you can achieve whatever you want with hard work and determination.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
The best thing about research is being the first person to discover something new – it’s very exciting!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Be brave and never give up!

I very nearly didn’t take the first job I was offered as I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it – sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith and go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t enjoy it so you do something else!

And determination is essential. It took me nearly 4 years to secure PhD funding, sometimes things take longer than you expect (or hope) but if you are tenacious you will get there in the end!

Favorite website or app: Twitter

Twitter: @CharlotteRobin

STEMinist Profile: Kristen Sager Cincotta, Neuroscience Ph.D. Graduate

Kristen Sager Cincotta

Occupation: ORISE fellow/guest public health policy researcher

Organization: CDC



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I liked learning about how things work, especially within the body, and I loved my science classes in grade school. Science felt more like playing than my other classes, which were mostly memorizing and regurgitating things. When I realized that I could have a career in science that might actually help us solve some of the greatest problems facing the world today, instead of helping someone else make money selling something, I was all in.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My graduate work all focused on Alzheimer’s Disease, and in particular, a receptor protein that appears to manipulate the production of ABeta, the primary component of amyloid plaques. At one point, I got to work on a project attempting to identify novel compounds that could interact with and redirect my receptor around the cell, thus giving us a way to control ABeta production.

It was a highly translational project that could have significant ramifications for our ability to treat, or more likely, to prevent Alzheimer’s disease in patients. I found it very exciting to be working on something with that type of applicability to a very real problem. Plus, I got to use some seriously cool robotics in setting up the high throughput compound screenings!

Role models/heroes:
My undergraduate advisor, Dr. Jean Hardwick and the women of the Ithaca College Biology Department who showed me that women can run not just their own labs, but entire scientific departments. Mary Lasker, Nancy Brinker, and Laura Ziskin, who all identified important gaps in our public health system (especially regarding cancer) and worked (or are working) to do something about it. My mother, whose strength and resolve in living her life with Stage IV breast cancer is a daily reminder that some things are worth fighting for.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Because it’s fun and it’s important in equal measure. Scientists get to play with interesting equipment and techniques, see things most people never do, and spend days and weeks thinking about and trying to answer questions that most people don’t have the time to even consider. And scientists have the ability to change the world for the better.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Support each other, especially up-and-coming women in science. For whatever reason, women in STEM can be very judgmental of their fellow STEMinists. It almost feels like there’s an unspoken belief that if we broaden the field to allow more women in, we will be diminishing the accomplishments of the STEMinist trail blazers that went before us. It’s a weird paradox that I was disheartened to discover. We should be opening our arms and supporting all women in STEM, not self-selecting those we feel are the “right” type of female scientist.

Favorite website/app:
Twitter – it’s my news feed and communications outlet all in one!

Website: www.KristenCincotta.com
Twitter: @kscincotta

STEMinist Profile: Meagan Pollock, Engineering Education Consultant, Doctoral Candidate

Meagan Pollock

Engineering Education Consultant, Doctoral Candidate

Meagan Pollock Consulting, Purdue University



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
At 18, I sat in the biology lab chatting about the future with one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Reeves. A quiet interruption, my other favorite teacher, Mrs. Estes, walks in from the chemistry lab to speak with Mrs. Reeves. Pardoning the interruption, she began to describe this program that Texas Instruments (TI) was trying to begin to encourage women to become engineers. You see, her cousin worked as a professor at Texas Woman’s University (TWU), and was involved with writing the grant and proposing the program. The objective of the program was to offer fellowships to math and computer science majors at TWU to then encourage them to pursue a master’s level degree in electrical engineering. All the while, having a partnership with TI throughout their education for internship experience.

Mrs. Estes said to me, “Meagan, you’d be a perfect candidate for this program!” I laughed without a second thought (why would I want to go to a women’s university?!) and excused myself from the room. About half-way down the hall I stopped dead in my tracks… I’d applied to a dozen schools, been accepted with mediocre scholarships for education and interior design, fields I had no true to desire to pursue… It was as if time froze and forced me to reconsider. As I turned around there stood Mrs. Estes at the door. Before I could utter a word, she said, “My cousin’s name is Dr. Hargrave.”

I called TWU and the grant hadn’t gone through yet, so they weren’t considering applicants. Being a somewhat ambitious overachiever, I made my own application, essay included, and sent it to TWU. Within a few weeks, after a couple of follow-up phone calls, the department invited me to come visit the campus and meet the professors of the department. After touring a while, we settled in the department chair’s office to wrap up the visit. Dr. Edwards finished typing something and it began to print. He handed me a letter in which I then read silently. It was a letter offering me a full-ride to TWU. Dr. Edwards replied, “Meagan, we don’t have the money from the TI grant yet, but we want you to join us here and will make certain you are taken care of.” Graciously, I accepted… and the rest is history.

In summary, even though I liked math, science, and computer science, I never considered a career in these fields until I was encouraged by a teacher, and provided the opportunity to pursue a future in STEM through a scholarship. Educators, parents, and STEM professionals alike have a tremendous responsibility to encourage young women to consider careers in engineering, technology, as well as science and math. In addition, we can work together to break down barriers and build pathways for young women in STEM.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Coolest Engineering Project: My master’s thesis (2007) and subsequent research while practicing as an engineer was a study of the permeation & diffusion of moisture through the window bondline adhesive for the digital micromirror device (DMD), the key component in the Digital Light Processing (DLP) system. You are probably most familiar with this technology at your local digital cinema, but there are also incredible applications for medical devices that help people! The DLP projection system is comprised of a light source, optics, signal formatting processors and electronics, a color application (color wheel, LEDs, or lasers), and the DMD device. My research study learning about how moisture permeates and affects the DMD helped to enable new markets for DLP in smaller devices like cell phones, and portable medical devices.

Coolest Engineering Education Project: My dissertation research is a multiple case study analysis of high school females’ experiences in engineering, with consideration of the influences of their gender, race, and class. The literature identifies that gender, race, and class influences experiences, and that this intersection is important to understand. However, it has not been explored among females in high school engineering. Insights gleaned from case studies can directly influence policy, procedures, future research, as well as improve or enhance learning and teaching. The goal of the study is to richly describe the diversity of females’ experiences in engineering. Then, a cross-case analysis of the participants will provide a stronger and more compelling characterization, representative of the true diversity of experiences among high school females in engineering courses. The findings will inform curriculum developers and educators, improving the instruction of engineering for female students, and thus positively influencing the disparity in the field.

Role models/heroes:
Tegwin Pulley is a champion for diversity and has been a pioneer and advocate for women since the 60s. She is a role model and mentor to me for her commitment to the community, and to providing access, and equity for all.

Wanda Gass is a retired Fellow of Texas Instruments, and she was one of the first women to be named to this high technical distinction at TI. She excelled as a female engineer in an environment that was not welcoming to her. She is a role model and mentor.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Careers in STEM are exciting and diverse! As an engineer, I believe I am a trained problem solver and prepared to tackle almost anything. I love collaborating with smart and creative people, and I love knowing I am making a difference in the world!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Women make great engineers, and engineers are our future. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t give up! Encourage and support other women and girls in STEM, and believe that you can and will succeed, too. Finally, find a mentor and advocate to help you navigate your way, and don’t ever be afraid to ask for help!

Favorite website/app:
http://engineeryourlife.org/ – a guide to engineering for high school girls, with tools for parents and counselors too! See videos and read stories of real women engineers.

http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/science_careers.shtml – Want to know more about careers in science, technology, engineering, or math? Browse through detailed information on over 100 careers to discover what scientists really do and what it takes to prepare for these careers. Each career profile provides basic career information such as salary, job outlook, degree requirements, etc. They have also included videos featuring interviews with real scientists or on the job profiles.

http://www.teachengineering.org/ – The TeachEngineering digital library provides teacher- tested, standards-based engineering content for K-12 teachers to use in science and math classrooms. Engineering lessons connect real-world experiences with curricular content already taught in K-12 classrooms.

Website: www.MeaganPollock.com
Twitter: @MeaganPollock
Facebook: Engineering Equity in Education

STEMinist Profile: Stéphanie Couvreur, Physics PhD Student

Stéphanie Couvreur

Physics PhD Student

Université Paris Diderot – Matière et Systèmes Complexes Laboratory



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I think curiosity was my main motivation to pursue a career in science, the curiosity of understanding the world around you. As a child, I had always wanted to become an archaeologist. When I grew up, I participated in excavations and during the same time, at school, I was really enjoying maths and physics, their way to explain phenomena. So I decided to study science and more specifically physics in order to work at the frontier between science, archaeology and art history in datation and scientific analyses.

I was very lucky to work in this field during an internship in the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (Research and Conservation Center for French Museums). But finally, during my physics studies, I enjoyed more and more hydrodynamics, a field where you directly “see” what you study. I particularly appreciated the beauty of the phenomena, and how you can often observe them in your daily life! For me, understanding them adds a form of beauty to life. That is how I decided to pursue a career in physics and to do my PhD in hydrodynamics.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
During my studies and now as a PhD student, I worked as a science explainer in this amazing science museum in Paris called Palais de la Découverte. The particularity of this museum is science shows: there are about 60 of them every day in many different topics! In the physics department, we deal with various subjects, from basic electrostatics to superconductivity, passing by sound waves. We have the opportunity to use impressive facilities like a electromagnet which reproduces a magnetic field 10 000 times bigger than the Erath’s one, using a current of 500 Ampers!

In this museum, you surprise the public with phenomena they don’t expect, their eyes are shiny and they have an expression of interrogation on their face. Then you explain the science and you make the public happy by explaining to them what is going on. For me, it is amazing to make discovering physics to people in a way they like it. I just want to increase their curiosity towards science. I went to this museum as a child, then as a teenager and now as a physicist and I have always learned so many things there. In particular, interacting with the public brings you a lot of questions, about the pedagogy of course but also about the physics itself.

Role models/heroes:
Sophie Germain was one of the first women mathematician. She had to pretend to be a boy to follow science class in the “École Polytechnique”. She exchanged many letters with Gauss.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love observing phenomena in my daily-life in a new way. For example, at breakfast, when you let flow honey from your spoon to your muffin, the honey spins when hitting the bread; then you mix your cup of tea and tea leaves go in the center of your cup; whereas some tea leaves stay at the surface of the liquid and aggregate…in all these current phenomena, there are some beautiful physics inside. It makes me see the life with another look! :-)

Advice for future STEMinists?
Go for it, I am sure you will enjoy it! :-) For now there are few women in some fields (as physics for example) but don’t be afraid about that, just show you are as smart as a man!

Twitter: @stephaniecouv

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: 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: 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: 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: Nicola Derbyshire, Ph.D. Student, Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry

Nicola Derbyshire

Ph.D. Student, Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry

University of Leeds



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
A general interest in sciences and being told I was good at it by a chemistry teacher at secondary school.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I spent a large portion of my PhD working on the application of aptamers in biosensors which could lead to some really cool diagnostics applications. It’s not there yet but the future of this project looks “cool.”

Role models/heroes:
Not sure. I have an amazing mentor, the post doc that I currently work with who is supportive and inspiring. Ultimately I admire anyone who is able to be happy in their work and personal life at same time. Many people sacrifice one for the other and I don’t feel it has to be this way.

Why do you love working in STEM?
It keeps my brain ticking and I love solving the puzzle. I trained as a biomedical scientist first and though I loved the job I realised it would very quickly become routine and monotonous leading to boredom. Being in research instead means I am always engaging my brain, having to consider the small niggling problems and also the bigger picture.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Pick your project wisely. If you aren’t inspired by it before you start it will be extremely difficult to keep up the momentum when things aren’t going so well.

Favorite website/app:
Twitter. I get all my social and science updates in one place, have made new contacts and solidified existing ones. It has enabled me to gather advice from essentially complete strangers and encourages concise communication, something I (and many other scientists) seem to find difficult.

Twitter: @Nic_Derbyshire