Science Teaching Fellow at Science Education Initiative, University of Colorado at Boulder
Owner and operator of my own independent business, sciencegeekgirl enterprises
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have always been interested in learning how the world works. When I found out (in 8th grade Home Economics, out of all things) that a physicist was someone who figured out how the world works, I said “that’s for me”. I took a very indirect path, however. I began my undergraduate career as a physics major, and switched out after the first year. I felt that it should be easier, and was also intimidated by the men in the class who seemed to know just what they were doing all the time. I was the only woman out of all four years of physics majors at the time, in a small liberal arts college.
Years after I switched to psychology, my advisor told me that I was one of the best students in the class. I was always resentful that he didn’t encourage me more. However, it worked out well, because psychology has always fascinated me — much as physics is figuring out how the world works, psychology is figuring out how people work. I took much more physics and math in my undergraduate career, and eventually got a PhD in physics. I have since become involved in STEM education, which is a very nice blend of the physics and psychology backgrounds. I have a very broad view of science and education because of this background.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Exploratorium Museum of Science, Art, and Human Perception in San Francisco after finishing my degree in physics. This was the best job ever; I particularly liked the chance to put together cool hands-on activities that gave insight into something in the world. For example, in one live webinar, I used a plexiglass tube to “core” a layer cake, to show how ice core samples drill down into the ice.
Role models and heroes:
My mentor at the Exploratorium, Paul Doherty. Paul is a physicist who can not only explain anything, but can infect you with his enthusiasm and excitement for the mystery of the world and help you figure it out yourself.
Also Steve Pollock, an instructor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Steve cares so deeply about his students, and is bubbling over with energy and excitement. Again, his respect for others helps empower them to figure things out for themselves.
Both of these teachers have the ability to inspire others to work hard and do their best, because we want to work hard for people who work hard for us.
Advice for future STEMinists?
Follow your interests, even if it doesn’t always make sense. I had no idea what I would do with physics, since I didn’t think I would go into research, but I knew I wanted to know more physics. And now I’ve created an amazingly diverse and interesting career for myself based on physics and education.
For a metaphor on my career path and how you can “sniff” out the best paths, see my post “How a Scientist Becomes a Freelance Science Writer.”
Favorite website or app:
Phet.colorado.edu — great, interactive simulations on various areas of science