Ph.D. Student in Physics
The University of Massachusetts Amherst
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always enjoyed math and science in middle and high school, and I have an uncle who is a physicist. Both my parents and I assumed I would continue on with math and science after high school, however, I rebelled a bit when it came time to make a decision about college and ended up at art school. After art school I entered the work force as a bank teller. In my early twenties I began really missing math and science. I was working hard, but was not being challenged mentally. I borrowed some of my uncle’s physics textbooks and began going through them on my own after work. Eventually I decided to go back to school and ended up getting my bachelors degree in physics when I was 29.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Of course I think the coolest project I’ve worked on is the one I’m working on now! I’m interested in membrane proteins that are able to both sense particular membrane curvature and induce changes in membrane curvature. What I love about this project is that it has required a very interdisciplinary approach. I’m a physicist at heart, but while working with these proteins I’ve learned a bunch of chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular biology.
I’m always inspired by scientists (or anyone, really) who doesn’t have blinders on. By that I mean scientists who are sincerely interested in things that are going on outside their particular subfield.
Why do you love working in STEM?
Well, I don’t ALWAYS love it. When things are going well—you’re getting data, and you have some idea of what the data is saying, it’s supremely exciting and makes it all worthwhile. The other side of the coin is the struggle that comes when things aren’t working, or when things are working but you don’t understand what the data is telling you. For me the most difficult part of doing research is overcoming the fear that you have no idea what is going on and that everyone else on the planet must have a better understanding of it than you do. I guess, in the end, I just love the challenge. It’s a challenge to get everything working, it’s a challenge to understand your results in as detailed and precise a way as you can, and it’s a challenge to then communicate those results to the scientific community.
Advice for future STEMinists?
As with any career I would suggest trying to make sure that you’re doing something you love to do (at least most of the time). For me a key part of figuring this out was becoming involved in research as an undergraduate. I was able to get a pretty accurate glimpse into what graduate school and life in the lab would be like.