Danielle N. Lee
Biologist / Post-doctoral Research Associate
Department of Zoology, Oklahoma State University
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I actually fell into it. I’ve always loved being outside and watching animals. When I went off to college, I was a pre-veterinary medicine major. I loved my Animal Science classes and did well. However, I was not accepted to Veterinary School; and I applied 4 times!! But I continued to take classes and started in a Master’s program in Biology.
My intention was to beef up my GPA and improve my biology background; but I ended up doing research and loving it! I had no idea that Animal Behavior was a career track. I love being a science researcher. As a kid, I was always asking adults questions about nature and animals. I didn’t always get very satisfying answers, even from teachers. In research I learned how to answer my own questions, and I find that to be a very exciting and empowering thing.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I think the project I’m scheduled to work on now might be my coolest project. I haven’t started the hard work, yet, but it is the coolest thing I’ve ever signed up to do: Studying bomb-sniffing rats from Africa. The African Giant Pouched rat, Cricetomys gambianus. A non-profit organization, APOPO, trains these rats to detect landmines and save lives. I’m part of project to learn more about the rats’ basic behavior. I am a biologist who studies animal behavior and I seem to have a specialty working with small mammals. The goal is to learn more about their natural history, such as their mating system, breeding biology, parenting behaviors and perhaps learn more about what makes some rats really great at detecting explosive materials.
Role models and heroes:
Dr. Charles Henry Turner – the first African-American Animal Behavior Scientist. Dr. Roger Arliner Young – 1st African American Woman to earn a Ph.D. in Zoology.
Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t be afraid to get dirty. I especially love studying animals outside. Often girls are told to be still and demure and be neat. No good discovery was made wearing clean clothes; and that’s the part of the job I love the most. I take that same philosophy with me in the classroom. Don’t be afraid to be front and center of your own academic process.
In college, I was a very enthusiastic student. Maybe some professors thought I was pushy. I look back on it, and yeah, I think I’ll have to agree. But no one will be a bigger advocate for you than you. When I was uncertain or confused I didn’t hesitate to ask questions or seek help; and that’s exactly how I am in the field. I’m always ready to get animals in hand, even if it means getting dirty.
Favorite website or app:
I love Twitter. I get most of my news and updates from it. Especially since I don’t have a TV, it’s become my closed captioning device.
I have a blog at the Scientific American Blog Network: The Urban Scientist – A hip hop maven blogs on urban ecology, evolutionary biology & diversity in the sciences.
My academic web profile for the Department of Zoology of Oklahoma State University is here.