Science, Health and Environmental reporting masters student, Science Writer and Blogger
New York University, SalamanderHours.com
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Very early on, I developed a fascination with animals, especially amphibians and reptiles. As a child, I devoured books about the world’s most poisonous snakes, and always clamoured for the television to be tuned into shows like the “Crocodile Hunter” on the Discovery channel. I would proclaim to anyone who would show an interest that I was destined to become a herpetologist. Of course, I would later realize that I was better suited to writing about science as opposed to actually performing scientific experiments, but my fascination for all things STEM continues to grow.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph in zoology. For my honours thesis, which I am hoping to publish soon, I studied the sensory determinants that guide the behaviour of the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus) during conspecific interactions. I tried to determine if and how olfactory cues interact with visual cues to provoke a territorial response in the salamanders during their interactions with each other. It was pretty amazing to get to know the behaviour of this amphibian on such an intimate level, especially given its well-documented territoriality.
I am especially appreciative of the work of the prominent science writers of our time. I find journalists like David Dobbs, who wrote a wonderful piece entitled “The Science of Success” for The Atlantic in 2010, and Deborah Blum, who is the author of many a popular science book, especially inspiring. But in truth, the person that has inspired me the most throughout my life is my grandmother, Mariette Dessureault-Duhaime. Thanks to her, the word “feminist” and all its implications were always cast in a positive light in my household. She taught all her grandchildren that fighting for gender equality was a worthwhile and critical battle to wage, and she did so joyfully throughout her life.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I never wanted to stop learning, and being a science writer means that I will never have to. The feeling I get from reading a study about, say, a faster way of DNA barcoding various plants and animals, or a new HIV treatment is indescribable. The only way I can find tranquility is by putting that excitement (or skepticism) into words, and sharing it. Discovering new concepts and ideas every single day is a fantastic way to go through life, and that’s why I love what I do.
Advice for future STEMinists?
I am still at the very beginning of my career, so I feel rather strange about giving advice. That being said, I think that perseverance is a virtue. The scientific method allows, and even plans for, failure, so you should never let that faze you.
I am a big fan of Knight Science Journalism at MIT Tracker Website (http://ksj.mit.edu/tracker). This site is dedicated to peer-reviewing science journalism. It is a great resource for anyone wishing to exercise a more critical eye when reading about new scientific discoveries in the mainstream media.