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health

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Claudia Aguirre, Ph.D., Neuroscientist/Skin Care Expert

Claudia Aguirre

Claudia Aguirre, Ph.D.

Neuroscientist/Skin Care Expert, Scientific Communications Manager for Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute



Organization: Dermalogica, Inc.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was always interested in finding out as much as I could about the world. I was a curious child but never really gravitated toward science, as it seemed like something for boys to do. I loved to read, write and was a great problem-solver. I did not realize for a long time that this was the perfect skill set for a scientist. In high school I excelled in English literature, French, Psychology and other ‘liberal arts’ areas. I felt I was not good enough at math to pursue hard sciences. (It’s only now that I understand girls and some boys need to understand it from a different perspective to ‘get it’).

I did really enjoy physiology and decided to give medicine a try. I was pre-med all my undergraduate years and in my sophomore year I began to do research in a life sciences lab. I immediately fell at ease and had a great female mentor to help me learn to get into the field. I was accepted into a scholars program that further developed my skills in becoming a scientist.

I was able to present my work at scientific conferences for undergraduates and even got my name published in a paper by my junior year. After this, I was encouraged to apply to a prestigious program at NIH, which I accepted and spent a year studying schizophrenia at NIMH. After that, I was certain I wanted to join a PhD program.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Science, when taught right (especially to girls) is pretty cool. One of the coolest projects was the one I worked on at NIMH studying the molecular basis of schizophrenia. Being the least understood of all mental diseases made it that much more interesting for me. I got a 360 degree view of the disease, even though I was personally only focused on extracting and analyzing RNA from human brain samples.

I got to sit in on physician-patient meetings and was in an incredible learning environment for sciences. The other cool project was a side project to my PhD. It was helping out with a study on the effects of LA pollution on the brain. This project even made it to TIME.

Role models and heroes:
My mother is always going to be a role model/hero for me.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t listen to them! You can do it all. You can have passions for art, literature, music and talents for math, science or technology (or vice versa). Either way, follow your instincts and don’t believe people when they doubt your skills. Get involved. Work on projects and find things outside of school that will fuel your curiosity.

Favorite website or app:
Favorite app at the moment is Instagram. I’m from a DIY generation, so it’s fun having the tools for making photos look amazing without a heavy investment. Favorite sites right now are Twitter for sharing information, and Pinterest for collecting nice images.

Twitter: @doctorclaudia
Site: claudiaaguirre.com

Please also see my blog post about STEM education for girls.

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Jen McCabe, CEO & Cofounder, Habit Labs

Jen McCabe

Jen McCabe

CEO, Cofounder
Habit Labs

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was obsessed with biology, particularly zoology, as a kid. For a long time, I thought I’d be the next Dr. Eugenie Clark. Before buying my first pet, a yellow rosella budgie named Sunshine, I researched parakeets – their behavior, habitats, etc. for months. I think my mom still has that folder somewhere. I was in 2nd grade, so some of the spelling may be off…

I read constantly and my favorite series were about animals and science fiction – first I devoured anything about horses (of course) and later Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider novels about genetically engineered fire lizards that human colonists use to create empathic dragons that bond with their rider. We’re talking really geeky stuff here.

I was sure I’d do something with animals, like vet school. I was always picking up strays. But then after a car accident I fell in love with human healing. The body and mind as machines that work in tandem fascinate me. It took me a while to figure out I’m not cut out to be a doc (although organic chemistry was a pretty good road block). Then I worked in healthcare management and administration – really boring stuff – before starting to develop freakish theories about consumer engagement in wellness and individual behavior change. Only a tech startup would give me the room needed to play fast and loose with multiple hypotheses about why people want to change, but hardly ever do.

Role models and heroes:
Victoria Claflin Woodhull, the first female candidate for President. Rosalind Franklin, the dark lady of DNA. Wilhelm Rontgen, who invented xray tech and open-sourced it way before open-sourcing was cool. My mom, who is a behavioral health RN, aka Supernurse. My sister, who is a former aeronautical engineer who is engineering a family of 3 kids (Ellen, Ada, and Boden) in Virginia.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t be concerned with prerequisites or rules. These are social hierarchical structures that can be hacked, usually. Demonstrate your competence repeatedly, and then own it. Don’t dilute your value by displaying a lack of confidence in your ability. That said, try not to bludgeon others over the head with it, until it’s time to negotiate pay and bonuses. Don’t ever accept less than ANY counterpart, male or female.

You may have to make sacrifices. Big ones. Still. I wake up every day doing things other women dream about. I am blessed. Acknowledge when you don’t know how to explain your good fortune. Try not to be jealous of the good fortune of others. You are NOT them, whoever they are. Work hard to follow luck whenever she opens a door for you (about 2% of the time) and work your ass off the other 98%. Always ask what you are doing that is in danger of killing project X. If the answer is you, change, or get out. If the answer is anything else, fix it, or tell it to fuck off.

Favorite website or app:
I’m biased towards health apps that are simple, clean in terms of the user experience, and effective at tracking both a new behavior and sustaining a behavior change over time. Other than ours, I’m a new fan of Swole.me. It’s an automatic diet planner built by the Louis DeMenthon, the little brother of one of my YCombinator batchmates, Eric DeMenthon.

I also love 23andMe for making genetics consumer friendly. They’re revolutionaries, although I’ll be much happier when they move from a SNP method to whole genome sequencing. I think we’re still sort of taking a Polaroid of our genomic expression, like a still life, and as soon as we’ve captured it, it’s probably out of date. When we have an app that shows us our own whole genome with complete, constant sequencing in real time – then I’ll get *really* excited.

Twitter: @jensmccabe
Site: habitlabs.com