Mikel “Micky” Holcomb
Assistant Professor of Physics
West Virginia University
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have always enjoyed teaching and mentoring. I have also been good at math since second grade; my mom bribed me with a pink scooter to memorize my multiplication tables. I was hooked. Throughout high school, I thought I wanted to be a math professor. Then, my college introductory physics professor lured me over to the dark side with the beauty of applying the math to applications that could change the world. I started a research project as a freshman and I still use those experimental techniques today.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I ever worked on involved understanding quantum computing at IBM during a summer internship. If that hasn’t already caught your interest, let me tell you that to do this, I got to work with lasers, liquid nitrogen and a really big magnet. What more could a girl ask for?
Role models and heroes:
Oh, I have so many that have helped me in myriad different ways.
My parents raised me to be confident and hard-working, while caring for others. I find these very important traits for this job. My husband has been wonderfully supportive of my constant conversations with him about things he doesn’t understand, so much so that he is actually starting to understand what I do now despite not being a physicist! Actually, my kids are a good source. It’s amazing to see the wonder in their eyes as I teach them something about science. My son’s bedroom ceiling is covered with the summer constellations (in approximately the correct scale) and he loves to learn. He even is amused about learning about waves on a string when we are playing with the cat’s leash. (Yes, I walk my cat. She loves to go outside.)
Norman Tolk was my research advisor as an undergraduate and always had so much excitement for both his research and life outside of it. He continues to be a vibrant collaborator. My graduate advisor Ramesh taught me a lot about hard work. My colleagues in the Physics department continue to be a wonderful source of support and inspiration. I also have several professors and beamline scientists around the country that I rely on for various forms of advice. It takes a village, and my village is the scientific community.
Advice for future STEMinists?
As a mother of two young children, I want women to realize that academia is a great job to have as a mother. While I will not claim having a job and raising a family is easy, the flexibility of the college life is better than most options.
There are some tricks to making it easier. I find that a good daycare is essential. Honestly, my children learn so much faster from other kids around their age than they ever learn from me. Also, get a babysitter for a few hours on the weekend at least twice a month. Go see a movie or do something you and your significant other enjoy. It’s easy to lose yourself to the job and the kids if you don’t take a little time for yourself. A mom’s support group can also be fun.
Favorite website or app:
Hmm, tough. I guess my favorite is keeping up with my family and friends on Facebook.