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STEMinist Profile: Jacinta Yap, PhD Student – Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellow

Jacinta Yap

PhD Student – Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellow

QUASAR group of the University of Liverpool, based at the Cockcroft Institute. Part of the Optimising Medical Accelerator (OMA) training network.


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
When I came across medical physics, I realised that it’s got everything that I’m interested in and what motivates me: science, medicine, physics and all the technical aspects from engineering.

Growing up I had an interest in maths and science but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at university. Initially I wanted to do a science degree, but given my dad and brother’s background in mechanical engineering, my parents advised me to pursue something more practical and so I did a major in mechanical engineering. After that I thought maybe medicine, radiology or radiation oncology, and this is how I discovered medical physics.

As a medical physicist, I will be able to use my technical expertise but also do something that would impact people’s lives directly. I would like to work in a hospital and interact with patients, doctors and machines, seeing first-hand the difference I am making.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I am a Marie Sklodowska Curie Fellow in the QUASAR group of the University of Liverpool, headed by Professor Carsten Welsch, and I am based at the Cockcroft Institute, UK. I am also part of the Optimising Medical Accelerator (OMA) training network, and my project is looking at both beam diagnostics and radiobiology.

In one of my studies, we are trying to figure out why proton therapy – a new form of cancer treatment – is more effective than conventional radiotherapy at the biological level: why it does more cluster damage to DNA, why this makes it harder to repair, or if it creates more strand breaks… basically pairing up the physics with the biology.

Although significant progress has been made in the use of particle beams for cancer treatment, there are still a lot of unanswered questions in proton therapy.

It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly why proton therapy is effective overall, because there are so many different factors. One thing that is agreed is that proton therapy can do more DNA damage to the cancer. If you compare the damage with other types of radiation you can see that cells are slower to repair.

Role models and heroes:
For me, I think Marie Sklodowska Curie represents courage; she was able to overcome many challenges and to pursue something fearlessly.

I was actually recently in Krakow, where there has been a long established university, the university Marie Sklodowska Curie wanted to go to. At that time they didn’t accept women so she went to France.

She is probably the first prominent female researcher who has done really incredible things, and it’s because of her legacy that people like me are able to come overseas and pursue our own dreams. She is an inspiration.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
During previous placements in hospitals shadowing medical physicists, I realised a clinic is a very dynamic environment – lots of things were happening all the time. There was a lot of interaction with patients and with other staff – it was really cool to see what happens. Without a medical physicist they wouldn’t have the technical expertise they need to treat these patients. They are right at the forefront.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t be afraid of the challenges! Take each hurdle in stride and view them as learning experiences – its easy to overlook the simple perspective change, just thinking of them as opportunities to learn and grow can do wonders!

Favorite website or app:
Quora – kind of like reddit; question and answer platform but a bit more educational, there’s some really interesting and enlightening topics and discussions on there.

News

Shohini Ghose, Physics Feminista

Ghose argues that sexism hurts both women and science. Excluding half the potential workforce also excludes any insights they might have contributed. And without women to guide scientific inquiry and product development, their unique needs tend to be overlooked. Above all, women deserve the same access to high-paying STEM jobs and positive work environments as men.

[ via Ozy ]

News

UNC women to share a love of physics through Women in Physics club

The group holds weekly meetings on Thursdayswhere female physics students discuss their homework questions, listen to guest speaker lectures and eat dinner together. Sheila Kannappan, a female professor in the department of physics and astronomy, said the group provides a supportive environment for women to successfully finish their degree requirements and go further in the field.

[ via The Daily Tar Heel ]

News

Laura Bassi: The First Female Professional Scientist That Few People Know Of

The culmination of her eventual appreciation by the world of science came in 1776, two years before her death, when Bassi was appointed Bologna Institute professor of experimental physics. She had to work far harder than men to get approval, but she finally got it. So why haven’t you heard of her? Physics has been around a long time and the hard sciences are less involved in social justice than the soft and social sciences, so they don’t make a big deal of the fact that the first professional female scientist was a physicist.

[ via Science 2.0 ]

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Stéphanie Couvreur, Physics PhD Student

Stéphanie Couvreur

Physics PhD Student

Université Paris Diderot – Matière et Systèmes Complexes Laboratory



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I think curiosity was my main motivation to pursue a career in science, the curiosity of understanding the world around you. As a child, I had always wanted to become an archaeologist. When I grew up, I participated in excavations and during the same time, at school, I was really enjoying maths and physics, their way to explain phenomena. So I decided to study science and more specifically physics in order to work at the frontier between science, archaeology and art history in datation and scientific analyses.

I was very lucky to work in this field during an internship in the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (Research and Conservation Center for French Museums). But finally, during my physics studies, I enjoyed more and more hydrodynamics, a field where you directly “see” what you study. I particularly appreciated the beauty of the phenomena, and how you can often observe them in your daily life! For me, understanding them adds a form of beauty to life. That is how I decided to pursue a career in physics and to do my PhD in hydrodynamics.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
During my studies and now as a PhD student, I worked as a science explainer in this amazing science museum in Paris called Palais de la Découverte. The particularity of this museum is science shows: there are about 60 of them every day in many different topics! In the physics department, we deal with various subjects, from basic electrostatics to superconductivity, passing by sound waves. We have the opportunity to use impressive facilities like a electromagnet which reproduces a magnetic field 10 000 times bigger than the Erath’s one, using a current of 500 Ampers!

In this museum, you surprise the public with phenomena they don’t expect, their eyes are shiny and they have an expression of interrogation on their face. Then you explain the science and you make the public happy by explaining to them what is going on. For me, it is amazing to make discovering physics to people in a way they like it. I just want to increase their curiosity towards science. I went to this museum as a child, then as a teenager and now as a physicist and I have always learned so many things there. In particular, interacting with the public brings you a lot of questions, about the pedagogy of course but also about the physics itself.

Role models/heroes:
Sophie Germain was one of the first women mathematician. She had to pretend to be a boy to follow science class in the “École Polytechnique”. She exchanged many letters with Gauss.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love observing phenomena in my daily-life in a new way. For example, at breakfast, when you let flow honey from your spoon to your muffin, the honey spins when hitting the bread; then you mix your cup of tea and tea leaves go in the center of your cup; whereas some tea leaves stay at the surface of the liquid and aggregate…in all these current phenomena, there are some beautiful physics inside. It makes me see the life with another look! 🙂

Advice for future STEMinists?
Go for it, I am sure you will enjoy it! 🙂 For now there are few women in some fields (as physics for example) but don’t be afraid about that, just show you are as smart as a man!

Twitter: @stephaniecouv

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Orla Kelly, Ion Optics Design Engineer

Orla Kelly

Ion Optics Design Engineer

University of Bristol and Photek (in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership)


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Even though the majority of my female friends in school studied things like ‘Health and Social Care’, I always wanted to do maths and science. I thought I would go on to become a civil engineer like my older brother, but he convinced me it would be too tough because I’m a girl! Although, I actually think he was worried that I would be better than him. I ended up choosing to study Physics and Applied Maths at university, hoping it would keep my options open for career choices later on.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project was during my PhD, where I used really powerful lasers to blow up molecules to see what they are made of. These lasers are so powerful, they can set paper on fire and cause sparks in the air. It was like magic being able to slice up these invisible molecules and detect the different parts. When I describe it using the scientific terms, it sounds a little less cool (electrostatic ion trap mass spectrometry using intense, femtosecond photoionisation). Now my job is to design the instruments to allow these experiments to happen, which is pretty cool too!

Role models/heroes:
This is a corny response, but my role models are the people I am surrounded by each day. At university, all my peers were doing cool, interesting projects that were really inspiring. And now in my job, I’m in awe of the people that have taken their scientific background and made a business out of it.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love the challenge, how every day can bring something new. I love how what I do is different to the norm. It is pretty fantastic being surrounded by clever people doing clever things, and I love that I am a part of it.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t let negative people put you down. Some people are rubbish and will stereotype you (like my brother did telling me I couldn’t be a civil engineer!). Keep doing what you do best, as that’s the best way to break stereotypes and change opinions.

Favorite website/app:
www.xkcd.com for some humour to brighten your day (not that I always understand it…). Be sure to hover over the cartoon to get the alternative text too!

www.guardian.co.uk has some great science blogs that entertain and inform (sometimes with great discussions from readers underneath too).

Website: www.ultrafastbelfast.co.uk
Twitter: @orlakellybell

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Jarita C. Holbrook, Researcher

Jarita C. Holbrook

Researcher

Women and Gender Studies at UCLA



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My career is really two stages if not three. I hold degrees in physics, astronomy, and astrophysics through my doctorate. At that point in time, I wanted to be an astrophysicist but by the time I finished my PhD, I had changed my mind. The next stage of my career has been as a social scientist focused on the links between humans and the night sky: Cultural Astronomy. To make the transition from physical science to social science was not easy! I had to learn a new language and way of approaching and analyzing data.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The third stage of my career is that I am a filmmaker! When I am making documentary films I focus on minority astronomers and astrophysicists. Being a cultural astronomer takes me to amazing places and I talk about the sky and gather information about the sky from everyone I meet; when I am making a film I follow astronomers to cool places and focus on them and their research.

Role models/heroes:
I have many great mentors but role models is more difficult: Anthony Aveni added respectability to Cultural Astronomy and his work is amazing. I love the work of filmmaker Julie Dash, but I have never met her. Angela Davis is my role model for how to always be gracious no matter how famous. Anthropologist Brackette Williams taught me how to undermine my opponents because they are predictable. Finally, former dean of the UA business college Ken Smith taught me some tricks to being an effective academic leader. All of them I consider to be my role models.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I like being able to develop a hypothesis, design a research project to test it, and then to look at my results to see if my original hypothesis was correct. This step 1, step 2, step 3 that you can always fall back on. What I absolutely love is when I am looking for one thing and I discover another thing!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Being an interdisciplinary scientist is difficult because the academy is rigid so everyone wants to fit you into somebody else’s box. However, I think that the most exciting work is occurring in the spaces between disciplines. Career-wise, I have had to compromise and occupy places where I do not fit intellectually, however I have always learned things important to my research from my colleagues in every situation. I have occupied history of science, applied anthropology, Africana studies, and now women and gender studies not to forget physics and astronomy, too.

Favorite website/app:
I have always been a movie person so nothing beats IMDB and their app.

Twitter: @astroholbrook

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Suzie Sheehy, Research Fellow

Dr. Suzie Sheehy

Research Fellow

I work in the Intense Beams Group of the Accelerator Science and Technology Centre (ASTeC) based at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory where I am supported by a Royal Commission for the Great Exhibition of 1851 Research Fellowship.



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I find it hard to narrow it down to one particular moment. Lots of people say “it was my teacher” or “I looked through a telescope for the first time and just knew!” but it isn’t like that for me. I don’t remember the point when I knew I wanted to pursue a career in STEM, I had a lot of interests when I was younger and I was as interested in musical theatre as I was in science! My careers advisors in high school told me I could do anything I wanted for a career—in a way, that was quite empowering.

My choice of subjects at university (where I started out doing a double degree in both Engineering and Science) was based on what I was good at and what I thought would leave as many doors open as possible. Only in second year Physics did I realise that I might be able to pursue a career in research—I still remember when one day I asked a lecturer a question about what he’d shown us and he said “we don’t know, actually—that’s my research, I’m trying to figure it out.” I had some great lecturers who encouraged me to pursue that curiosity. So I guess it was when I realised that physics doesn’t have all the answers that I finally got interested!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I’ve worked on is called ‘EMMA’, which stands for the Electron Machine for Many Applications. It’s a new type of particle accelerator which I refer to as a ‘rock-star accelerator’ because the way it is designed breaks a couple of really important rules that accelerator experts like to stick to. I think it’s a cool project because it’s the first of this kind in the world and many people in the field doubted it would work. During my PhD I got to control the machine hands-on during experimental shifts (not many people can say they’ve run a particle accelerator, even a small one!) Oh, and it really does work!

Role models/heroes:
Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell is definitely a role model for me, she is one of the most respected physicists of our time and meeting and getting to know her a bit during my PhD in Oxford was really inspiring. I also have to say that a number of the London 2012 athletes are also my role models, Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, and loads of others who have proven that if you put in the hard work and have the right support you will see results. I’m a runner too and training for my first half marathon earlier this year taught me a lot about hard work and dedication, which is now crossing back over into my life as a scientist. If I’m stuck with a problem I now tell myself “if you can run for over 20km you can do this too!”, it’s very motivating!

Why do you love working in STEM?
There are so many things to love about it! One of my old high school friends recently summed it up nicely for me when she said “While the rest of us sell people things they don’t need or spend our lives doing something which will be easily forgotten, you spend your days pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge. In my job I might make a difference to a few people’s lives but imagine the difference you can make—it’s practically limitless. You have the most amazing job.” I was totally humbled.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Do what inspires you and play to your strengths. If you’re anything like me you probably have lots of different interests – so don’t forget you can combine them in surprising ways! For example, I’d always had an interest in theatre and as a scientist I use my stage presence and vocal techniques all the time when giving public lectures and science shows for schools. Also, don’t be afraid of doing things differently. I approach my research in a slightly different way to the rest of my research group and it took me ages to realise that it’s OK, in fact, it’s really valuable to have members of a team with different approaches!

Favorite website/app:
I’m a little bit obsessed with Pinterest at the moment—I’ve been using it to put together ideas for decorating my new house, finding yummy things to cook and even, occasionally, ideas for science demonstrations or interesting bits and pieces. I’m also loving RunKeeper—it’s where I store all my running data so I can check out the statistics like my pace and heart rate and see my improvement, it keeps me motivated.

Twitter: @suziesheehy
Website: www.suziesheehy.co.uk

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Kim Geddes, Engineer, Physics Teacher

Kim Geddes

Engineer, Southern Engineering Services

Physics teacher, Cherokee County Schools in Georgia



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I loved my high school physics class and knew that I wanted to study this subject more. Also, while I was in high school, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident occurred, and I began to read a lot about the science behind the accident. This accident actually inspired to pursue a career in nuclear engineering because I believed that nuclear was a great alternative to fossil fuels, and we needed dedicated people to make it a safe alternative for power generation.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My first place of employment was at the Savannah River Site, a government nuclear production and research facility. I had the opportunity to work with a team to develop a six-legged robot that moved like an insect. The robot was designed to go into areas unsafe for humans and the insect-like legs made the robot very agile, able to transverse uneven terrain, and capable of lifting objects many times its body weight.

Role models/heroes:
Marie Curie, Sally Ride.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Technology is constantly evolving, and there’s something new to learn every day.

Advice for future STEMinists?
I would give them the same advice Christopher Robin gave to Pooh, “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Favorite website/app:
DrawSomething

Twitter: @kimgeddes