Physics Ph.D. Candidate working on ferroelectrics
Stony Brook University
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always loved science growing up. My parents always supplied me with science kits and took me to museums and science centers. I ended up attending a science magnet high school and it took me until my junior year to start liking physics. From there, I had a meandering path to physics. I liked music and free stuff so I thought I’d work in the music industry. But after internships in the industry I found the work boring and wasn’t intellectually interesting. So I turned back to physics.
I thought I would end up becoming a high school teacher because I love teaching. (I worked at the education department of a zoo during my college summers.) I love sharing the excitement of science with others because I think people too often thing science, especially physics, is very daunting. Then, I took a “Solid State Physics” class in college and was fascinated by the material and experiments in the field. It was that class that made me want to go to graduate school and keep learning and doing physics.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My favorite experimental technique to work with is x-ray diffraction. This is a technique were we use x-rays to determine how atoms in materials are basically stacked together to make up the material. Usually we make samples of our materials first and then do x-ray measurements on them to look at the final structure. But for my favorite experiment, we have set up a growth chamber at the synchrotron x-ray source at Brookhaven National Lab. What we do there is use x-rays to look at the structure of certain ferroelectric materials grow while they are growing. I think it’s amazing that we can observe, in real time, the growth of material layers that are less than half a nanometer thick.
Two of my favorite scientific role models are Rosalind Franklin and Hedy Lamar. Rosalind Franklin has a very interesting story because she strove so hard to be a strong scientist when women scientists weren’t respected. She also worked on x-ray crystallography, which is one of my favorite fields.
As for Hedy Lamar, most people know her as an old movie star. But she also co-invented a way of encoded communication that was used in WWII and served as the basis for a lot of different communication technology. I love that she is someone that combines glamour and science. I find that too many people think science is scary or the domain of old, white guys. So I’d like people to see science the way I do, as something exciting and interesting and yes, even sometimes sexy.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working in STEM both because I get to “do science” and interact with people about it. By the first part of that, I mean I get to work to make new materials and discover things about them that no one has seen before. And sometimes, what we find is surprising, so when you find something not only new, but unexplained, well that’s just amazing.
I also enjoy the communication aspect of working in STEM. I find science fascinating and exciting and I love to help other people see this side of science. Whenever I tell people that I work in physics, it almost always turns into an opportunity to get people to see physics as it really is (and physicists as they really are!) and not as a stereotype.
Advice for future STEMinists?
If you know that a STEM career is for you, get an early start. You don’t have to be in tenth grade with a full time summer lab job, but keep on the lookout for interesting programs, internships, or opportunities to work in scientific settings. Also, be open to trying new things in science. If you’re curious about both the chemistry of the oceans and observing far away black holes, try both. Combine this with an early start and you will have a lot of opportunities to find out what type of science you are passionate about.
Also, don’t underestimate how important your communication skills are. A lot of people think that to be successful in STEM careers all you need to be is good at doing science. But an integral part of these fields is helping others understand what you are doing and why it’s important.
Favorite website or app:
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comics – There are always so many super funny comics about math and science. Either that or a number of celebrity gossip sites, because that’s definitely my guilty pleasure.