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Profiles

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: http://malloryladd.com

Twitter: @massspecmaven

Site: malloryladd.com

Blog

STEMinist Profile: Elizabeth Blaeser, Infection Preventionist / Science Screenprinter

Elizabeth Blaeser

Infection Preventionist / Science Screenprinter

UPenn Medicine / Fraggles & Friggles


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My parents really inspired my love of science. My Dad would read articles to me from Science News when I was really young and my Mom loved talking to me about anthropology and geology (my Dad still sends me articles to this day and I go rock hunting with my Mom). Then, in biology class in high school, it really hit me how much I truly loved the subject matter. I just couldn’t get enough.

From there I went to college for biology, worked as a research assistant in a pediatric gastroenterology department, went to get my masters in Public Health Microbiology and Emerging Infectious Diseases, worked at the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA), worked at a state health department as an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist, and ultimately, ended up being an Infection Preventionist for a hospital.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There were a lot of unusual and interesting things that came up while working at the state health department. The coolest was probably investigating a statewide outbreak of Shigella from a crowded 4th of July weekend at a local beach.

Role models and heroes:
I am kind of obsessed with Darwin. I wouldn’t say he was my hero per se, just that he made some incredible discoveries that changed the world forever. My role models are the strong professional women in my life. My current boss is incredible and I really look up to her. She is one of the few female department chiefs in our hospital network, she is incredibly knowledgeable, smart, and confident.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I learn something new and interesting every day! I know it’s cliche, but it’s so true. Even if it’s not at work, I get to read about incredible discoveries!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Reach out to alumni, friends, professors – anyone who has more experience in the field and the breadth of professional opportunities. Trust me, if you’re interested in science and don’t want to get an MD or PhD, you can still be in science! There are way more possibilities and types of jobs out there that you probably had never even heard of. Go out and explore!

Favorite website or app:
I screenprint punny science-related designs at www.fragglesandfriggles.etsy.com

Twitter: @fraggsandfriggs

Site: fragglesandfriggles.com

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Geeky Mikita, Physics Genius, Babysitter and STEM student

Geeky Mikita

Winner of the All Schools Everywhere Science Competition

Character in the book A Fairy in the Family Again


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I wanted to have a dinosaur as a pet and when my parents said “No” I tried to clone a dinosaur. That didn’t work. Then my science teacher, Miss Treacle, and I did a project where we designed and built an animatronic robot dinosaur. I have been doing STEM projects ever since.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I helped one of the other babysitters Keysha with her nail varnish project. I am sure you know that pearly nail varnishes get their pearliness from fish scales. Well, Keysha and I have a new pearly ingredient that means we don’t have to bother any fish. Helping animals and creatures with science is cool.

Role models and heroes:
My teacher Miss Treacle makes science fun. I really like Anne-Marie Amafidon from London who is a STEMette. The Stemettes do free events for girls. They have coding workshops, exhibitions and school trips. There’s always food. Anne-Marie Imafidon thinks girls should go on and work in STEM to help solve the world’s problems and I sooooo agree with her.

I like all the Hidden Figures mathematicians who helped to get human beings into space. Stephen Hawking is an impressive multi-tasker and so is Beyonce. Stephen Hawking is a cosmologist as well as a theoretical physicist and Beyonce is a mum as well as a musical genius. They are like me cos I had to babysit and do my homework at the same time.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
The best thing about doing projects is meeting people who help you with your project. They might see a way to do things that you would never have thought of. Bekki the Fairy helped me out when my particle accelerator didn’t work. I was stuck. I had made a machine for looking at particles and it wasn’t working. My machine was seven feet long and they really need to be about 17 miles like the Hadron Collider.

Miss Treacle has a friend who worked at CERN, the amazing centre in Switzerland where they built the giant Hadron Collider. He helped me and Miss Treacle to design a linear collider. Our collider was good, it was just a bit small for the job.

Well, I got stuck and didn’t know what to do. Bekki the Fairy did a fab spell that let me see particles and take pictures of them on my phone. Now the project is done and other scientists can use the information we found.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Ask for help. Honestly, some girls are such jelly-babies when it comes for asking for help. A supportive group is the best thing.

With my project looking for particles I got the other babysitters to help me collect Eezee Sneezee tissue boxes to build my particle accelerator. So, when I won it was like we all won. That’s science for you.

Favorite website or app:
Astronomy Photo of the Day. I like looking at the places that I will travel to one day so I like NASA’s site.

Website: avriloreilly.com. Geeky Mikita stars in A Fairy in the Family Again by Avril O’Reilly.

Profiles

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!

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Garima Gupta, Graduate Student / Regional Executive Officer, Robogals North America

Garima Gupta

Graduate Student / Regional Executive Officer, Robogals North America

Robogals



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have always enjoyed math and science and it has been my dream since I was nine to become an astronaut and the first person on Mars. So my interests and dreams naturally led to engineering. My parents are both engineers and fantastic role models, so their excitement for the field and their support of my goals has helped a lot as well.

After being immersed in STEM for so long, I can’t really imagine doing anything else!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I’ve ever worked on was during my undergrad. As part of the Kirschvink Lab at Caltech, I helped design, construct, and test a stage that would simulate the systematic movement of a magnetometer placed on a Martian rover’s instrument arm. The stage helped us find evidence of lightning strikes in rocks on Earth and a similar technology could help us do the same thing on Mars. This data could help us confirm the past existence of water on the planet and help us determine which rocks to avoid for sample return.

It was amazing to get to work on a project that combined mechanical, electrical, computer, and systems engineering as well as the geological and planetary sciences. I loved it!

I’m excited for some upcoming projects too though. I’ll be a propulsion intern at SpaceX this summer; can’t wait to see what I get to work on!

Role models and heroes:
My Parents: patient, supportive, and persevering.
Eileen Collins: incredible woman/pilot/astronaut and very humble too!
Amelia Earhart & Dara Torres: perfect examples of letting nothing stop you from achieving your goals.
Peter Diamandis: has an infectious sense of motivation and passion for his work; I hope I can communicate my excitement that well!

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I really enjoy making things with my own hands (whether it be a program on a computer or a part on the lathe) and seeing those become components in larger projects. I love that these projects always have some connection to a “bigger picture.” Working in STEM allows me to solve real-world problems and at the same time, further my dream of becoming an astronaut.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Find other people that are passionate about the same things that you are and surround yourself with them. They will not only inspire you on a daily basis and but you will also help each other accomplish exactly what you set out to accomplish (or maybe even more)!

Favorite website or app:
I really like this app “Bonza” – it’s a game that combines crossword and jigsaw puzzles. So fun! 🙂

Twitter: @AstroGarima

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Katie Mehnert, CEO and Founder, Pink Petro

katie_author_bw

Katie Mehnert

CEO and Founder

Pink Petro



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
The energy business is a fascinating and rewarding place to make a difference. We create and make things that power our world and underpin our economy and livelihoods. After years in energy technology and business transformation in Upstream and Downstream, I found my passion in health, safety, and operational risk management. Today I enjoy continuing that path as a consultant to industry while developing a diverse pipeline of female talent to drive closure of the gender gap in our sector.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The best project I tackled was road safety while at Shell. My team launched an intervention program in 16 countries across the globe and we drove down road fatalities. What made it cool? Country leadership teams, suppliers, and employees all worked together to make a difference in our pursuit to Goal Zero – an initiative that touched every part of our business, with over 100k people impacted. Ultimately Shell went on to become a leader in road safety, carving out a centre of expertise and becoming the role model in industry.

Role models and heroes:
There are plenty to count. First and foremost, my parents are my heroes. My dad and mom both always taught me three important things: owning my path, confidence, and integrity. I had many great teachers who gave me the space to learn and fail. Peggy, an engineer who has recently hit the pinnacle of her career as a CEO in a large IOC, took a risk on me as a non-engineer and changed my mindset and my career trajectory.

We all need role models and heroes and I seek to become one for other women so they know they don’t have to go at it alone.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
STEM fuels our world. It underpins our lives. It’s the engine that solves our biggest problems. It’s bigger than all of us and needs women.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Own it and make it happen. Don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way.

Favorite website or app:
I’m going to have to say, Pink Petro. In 5 weeks, we are in 11 countries with members from various technical and non technical disciplines. I’m honored my industry supported and encouraged me to pursue developing Pink Petro, a community for women in energy and their advocates. It uses JIVE social business technology to power professional development communities, Q/A forums, blogs, discussions, mentor and coach matching, ideation, and other neat features. It’s spam and ad free and supported through annual membership dues. The site includes students, educators, professionals, executives, retirees and service providers in the energy sector.

Twitter: @katiemehnert

Site: www.katiemehnert.com

Profiles

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

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Jesi Hoolihan, Student, Astrophysics

Jesi Hoolihan

Student

St Thomas University



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always had an interest in math and science during my high school career and after a six year career in retail management, found myself inspired while watching Particle Fever. I haven’t looked back since!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I founded my own nonprofit organization when I was 17. Founding a company on my own really showed me that I will accomplish anything I set my mind to.

Role models and heroes:
Elon Musk. I could care less if my hero is male or female, I love seeing people bettering our species as opposed to their pocket books.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
Well, I’m not officially there yet, but I am excited to be studying astrophysics.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Anything is possible. Don’t fall into the expectations of others.

Favorite website or app:
www.spacex.com

News

Is Sailing for the STEMinist?

Editor’s note: Nicole Trennholm is a scientist on the Ocean Research Project and is currently aboard the Japan-bound Sakura. She is periodically sending updates from sea:

“Hey lady, wake up! It’s noon and the sun is strong and winds are still squirrelly…it is time for your watch!” the Skipper shouts with a goofy grin while poking you.

The time has come to be diligent, your conscience confirms. The boat is yours: take charge, it’s time to let the other guy get some rest. You notice your muscles have cramped as you pull yourself upright and out of your bunk. You think back to your previous watch, and how sleepy you were when looking out for squally powerful and wind stealing rain clouds. You still have anxiety for having had to call out the sleeping Skipper from his bunk to help you get back on course after an accidental jibe – where the boom accidentally swings violently to the other side as the wind gusts from the opposite direction – and a second time to lend a hand in reducing sail as the wind picked up when a suspect dark cloud passed closer than expected.

Yet it is these experiences that develop the able sailor. A little after sunrise you plotted the daily 24-hour position on the passage chart. You are traveling west onboard the sailing research yacht Sakura bound for Japan and have cruised into the Eastern Hemisphere. You are well into the Pacific Ocean, looking out for dangers to navigation and assessing the risk of vessels on a collision course, easy to manage on a day like this and considering a ship has not been spotted in well over a week.

It’s hour one of four; your ship’s log is your companion and official record so you routinely mark it up to watch for red flags such as: quick changes in barometric pressure, unexpected developments in the weather and sea state, erratic navigation details and peculiarities in the state of the ship’s systems. Staying sheltered, cool and hydrated is critical so you keep inside the cabin, out of the sun. You are able to fill any downtime with easily interrupted activities like reading, all while keeping an eye on the ship’s ability to steer its designated course. You are busy surviving. Your focus and commitment for those four hours is to safely run the ship, guard the lives on it and be prepared to brief the relief watch person on the current conditions.

I am currently aboard the Sakura bound for Japan. I am a scientist on the Ocean Research Project (ORP) team and am aspiring to become an able sailor. I utilize and practice STEM tools not only as a sailor but also to plan and conduct the ORP’s continent-to-continent Plastic Pollution Survey, the impetus for our passage which began April 25 out of San Francisco. We are collecting plastic pollution samples all the way across and both in and outside of gyre systems (large areas of circulatory current where plastic assembles) to better understand its ocean-wide effect on the marine environment.

Would you voluntarily enter into this trying environment, challenging your STEM skill set while developing another in sailing, a skill set our modern first world culture does not stress as part of your development? Sailing teaches the endurance and patience necessary to develop your survival sense by providing an ever-changing classroom and demanding an adaptive, solution-minded pupil. Sailing requires survival sense, a vanishing primal human capacity and a combination of mental, emotional and physical strength.

To negotiate your obstacles while navigating, handle a catastrophic event onboard or even continuously maintain satisfactory conditions of your shipmates and ship systems requires great discipline and composure. To experience an eventless watch is unlikely and to uphold order indefinitely aboard a sailing passage is an ongoing battle but through the accretion of experiences you will undoubtedly develop your survival sense. You already have the tools STEM disciplines have equipped you with which may prove to be your greatest assets when aspiring to become an able sailor.

Blog

The CataLyst – Can you name a female scientist?

My guess is that most people know who Marie Curie was (the first woman to win a Nobel Price), and that’s probably where the list ends for many of us. Can you name a male scientist? How about 5, or 10? Yeah, not that difficult, is it? A European wide study found that although most of us could name one, a quarter couldn’t name a single female scientist, dead or alive. So the odds of people knowing more than one are slim.

They’ve uncovered some of our planet’s and the universe’s mysteries and their discoveries have helped to shape the world we live in, yet there’s still an out-dated idea that women haven’t made a difference to society. I’m pretty sure that this can be blamed on our ignorance about female scientists through history, and the fact than in many cases these women have effectively been written out of history books to the befit of their male counterparts.

Science journalist Priya Shetty said: “Women’s contributions have always been overlooked whether in politics, literature or science.” She added that without efforts to promote them, female scientists would sink into obscurity. “They’re not part and parcel of the education system. We’re not giving youngsters role models. Some of these women have had fantastic lives – why does nobody know about them?”

The Guardian had a piece a couple of months back about a similar issue after the Royal Society had been urging people to highlight the achievements of women in science by adding to their Wikipedia pages. Wikipedia is one of the most used sources of information today. It’s free and open, and anyone can add and edit articles. Yet the Wikipedia pages of many prominent women both in science and other fields show little more than a couple of short paragraphs of information.

Dame Athene Donald, fellow of the Royal Society, said “Many female scientists are either not there at all on Wikipedia or just [have] stubs. It’s not just the historical characters, it’s the current ones, and these very eminent women just somehow get overlooked.” And so, on March 4th this year, ahead of International Women’s Day, the Royal Society, working with the Royal Academy of Engineering, hosted an “edit-athon” to boost the presence of female scientists.

I think this is a great initiative, as every day we hear about the lack of role models for girls and how the STEM industry are losing its female workforce at various points in their careers. Wikipedia is a great arena to put focus on inspirational female role models as it’s almost always going to come top of Google search results. There is also hope that as the number of female Wikipedia editors increase, the focus will be shifted more onto women.

If you want to brush up on your knowledge of female scientists then read about these 6 women who were snubbed due to sexism, or why not learn about these 10 ground breaking women scientists written off by history. And in the interest of diversity, and my last post, the Royal Society has highlighted Inspiring Scientists: Diversity in British Science. Enjoy!