STEMinist Profile: Sara Caldwell, Molecular Biologist

Sara Caldwell

Sara Caldwell

Molecular Biologist

Associate Scientist Level

Organization: A small molecular diagnostics start-up company. We specialize in two main types of diagnostic assay development: human genetic diagnostics and pathogen identification.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always liked biology in high school, but I was never sure about what I specifically wanted to study. That is, until I took an Introduction to Biotechnology course at James Madison University (Duuuuukes!). I immediately loved the potential and variety of career choices in molecular biology. DNA-based research is conducted in almost every life science discipline nowadays and molecular biology lab skills are useful across all of them.

I thought this career choice gave me the most options later in life. I could continue to work in a lab, move into sales, work in regulation, write code for data analysis, or eventually pursue a Ph.D. and teach while I perform research at a university. I’m a person who likes options, to say the least, and this field offered a variety of choices. Everything grows quickly and it’s exciting. It can be chaotic at times, but I love it.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I’m currently working in assay development for a genetics diagnostics assay. It tests for a whole panel of genetically inherited disorders for a fraction of the cost of traditional sequencing. I’m incredibly excited to see where it goes and how it fares in the market. Other cool fact—I’ve worked with 50+ strains of influenza. That was a former job, but it makes a good party conversation starter.

Role models/heroes:
Hillary Clinton. Yes, I know she isn’t a scientist. I grew up with Hillary’s transition from First Lady to Secretary of State. She is never hesitant to speak her mind, remains true to herself, and definitely presents herself as a lady. This is challenging in a field dominated by powerful male lawyers and she has risen to meet it. Whether you love or hate her pink suit and her politics, you have to admire a woman who buys a round of Crown Royal on the campaign trail, right? All joking aside, she is someone whose presence could have disappeared in her husband’s scandal. Now she is one of the most powerful people in U.S. politics. This takes an admirable amount of tenacity and strength. It is impressive to say the least.

Why do you love working in STEM?
STEM translates into potential. Every day there are new advancements in technology that have the potential to completely transform our life experience. It is thrilling to be a part of that development and is a huge source of motivation. Who could have known 50 years ago that we would be analyzing DNA sequences electronically on a computer? Or even about DNA’s existence? It is amazing to say the least. The ability to improve our daily lives is incredible and definitively my favorite thing about the field.

Advice for future STEMinists?
You aren’t “too girly” for science and math. Engineers are not all socially awkward men. Being a scientist, engineer, or mathematician does not mean you are married to your work instead of a man. Do not doubt yourself. If you know you know it, flaunt it. Do not hesitate. Yes, there are salary discrepancies. Do not settle for an employer that allows them. There are an increasing number of women in STEM, but we need to show some confidence. Above all: believe in yourself. You have to. No one else is going to take you seriously if you do not take yourself seriously first.

Favorite website or app:
Science news: Science Daily, Lab Spaces
Blogs/Tumblrs: This is What A Scientist Looks Like, Scientific American Bloggers, It’s Okay to Be Smart

Twitter: @SciencingSara
Website: Geeking & Drinking

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