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physics

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics

Athene Donald

Athene Donald

Professor of Experimental Physics and the University’s Gender Equality Champion

University of Cambridge



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I just always knew, from the time that I had my first physics lesson at around 13, that this was what I wanted to do. I don’t think I thought in terms of a career when I went to university, and I’m sure I didn’t really know what careers were open to physicists. I didn’t think about pursuing an academic career until encouraged to do so by my supervisor during my second postdoc. At each stage I simply knew that I was enjoying what I was doing and feeling challenged. I have never regretted my decision.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Whatever I am working on now is always the coolest project. Working in a university, I have a lot of freedom in what projects I pursue, and I wouldn’t choose a project unless it excited or intrigued me. But the field of work I work in has changed constantly throughout my career. I started off working on the failure properties of synthetic polymers – ‘plastics’ – and now work on cellular biophysics and protein aggregation. Each transition from one topic to another has seemed logical at the time, and the tools I use tend to be similar. My current project on protein aggregation tries to use principles from physics to look at generic factors that determine the types of aggregates that form, but which may apply to very different proteins,including those implicated in diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease.

Role models/heroes:
My physics teacher at (high) school who was always willing to give me her time to stretch me.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Because it’s a constant challenge, with so many things to be curious about and to follow up. There’s always more to discover and be intrigued by.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t believe so many of the myths that float around about why women ‘can’t’ succeed in STEM, and don’t give up at the first setback.

Twitter: @athenedonald

Web: http://occamstypewriter.org/athenedonald/

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Emily Rice, Assistant Professor, Engineering Science & Physics

Emily Rice

Emily Rice

Assistant Professor at the College of Staten Island
(Engineering Science & Physics Department)

Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History
(Department of Astrophysics)



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I enjoyed math from at least the sixth grade, took advanced classes throughout high school, and when I started college I was planning on majoring in math. In the fall semester of my freshman year I also signed up for an introductory astronomy class, and I was hooked. I signed up for physics the following semester so I could major in physics & astronomy and take the rest of the astronomy courses. But I didn’t do much research as an undergraduate and wasn’t certain I would pursue a career in STEM until I started working at a planetarium after graduating from college. I learned so much more about astronomy and public outreach while I was there that I decided I wanted to pursue research and a Ph.D. in astronomy.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I am thrilled with how my fledgling research career has expanded since my Ph.D. to include low mass stars and extra-solar planets. I started out studying brown dwarfs, which are objects with masses in between the masses of stars and planets. My collaborators and I are trying to understand all of these objects in concert because they are surprisingly similar despite the striking differences between, for example, the Sun and Jupiter in our own Solar System.

Role models/heroes:
Even though he didn’t teach science, I still look up to my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Eugene Tiesler, because he taught in a way that made me feel capable and comfortable – I hope I can do the same for my own students. I also admire fellow scientists who have achieved success in their careers while mentoring students and having a family and interesting hobbies – luckily there are too many to name!

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love the variety and flexibility – I have a lot of different day-to-day responsibilities and there are always opportunities for new projects, in teaching, writing, presenting, research, travel, and more. I meet a lot of people who are interested in what I do, and it is always satisfying to help them learn more or change the way they think about science or scientists, even slightly. I think if everyone understood science just a little bit more, the world would be a better place for it.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Two pieces of advice:

1. Find what you enjoy, even if it’s not what others expect of you. When you enjoy what you’re doing, it won’t be a chore to devote yourself to it and excel.

2. Just because you have achieved a degree of success doesn’t been it is available to everyone. Take an honest look at your path and your community and figure out what you can do or change to make science open to and supportive for others who might be interested. We will all benefit from developing an equitable and diverse STEM community!

Favorite website or app:  Astronomy Picture Of the Day: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/

Twitter: @emilulu
Website: http://about.me/emilyrice

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Sara Callori, Physics Ph.D. Candidate

Sara Callori

Sara Callori

Physics Ph.D. Candidate working on ferroelectrics
Stony Brook University

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always loved science growing up. My parents always supplied me with science kits and took me to museums and science centers. I ended up attending a science magnet high school and it took me until my junior year to start liking physics. From there, I had a meandering path to physics. I liked music and free stuff so I thought I’d work in the music industry. But after internships in the industry I found the work boring and wasn’t intellectually interesting. So I turned back to physics.

I thought I would end up becoming a high school teacher because I love teaching. (I worked at the education department of a zoo during my college summers.) I love sharing the excitement of science with others because I think people too often thing science, especially physics, is very daunting. Then, I took a “Solid State Physics” class in college and was fascinated by the material and experiments in the field. It was that class that made me want to go to graduate school and keep learning and doing physics.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My favorite experimental technique to work with is x-ray diffraction. This is a technique were we use x-rays to determine how atoms in materials are basically stacked together to make up the material. Usually we make samples of our materials first and then do x-ray measurements on them to look at the final structure. But for my favorite experiment, we have set up a growth chamber at the synchrotron x-ray source at Brookhaven National Lab. What we do there is use x-rays to look at the structure of certain ferroelectric materials grow while they are growing. I think it’s amazing that we can observe, in real time, the growth of material layers that are less than half a nanometer thick.

Role models/heroes:
Two of my favorite scientific role models are Rosalind Franklin and Hedy Lamar. Rosalind Franklin has a very interesting story because she strove so hard to be a strong scientist when women scientists weren’t respected. She also worked on x-ray crystallography, which is one of my favorite fields.

As for Hedy Lamar, most people know her as an old movie star. But she also co-invented a way of encoded communication that was used in WWII and served as the basis for a lot of different communication technology. I love that she is someone that combines glamour and science. I find that too many people think science is scary or the domain of old, white guys. So I’d like people to see science the way I do, as something exciting and interesting and yes, even sometimes sexy.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working in STEM both because I get to “do science” and interact with people about it. By the first part of that, I mean I get to work to make new materials and discover things about them that no one has seen before. And sometimes, what we find is surprising, so when you find something not only new, but unexplained, well that’s just amazing.

I also enjoy the communication aspect of working in STEM. I find science fascinating and exciting and I love to help other people see this side of science. Whenever I tell people that I work in physics, it almost always turns into an opportunity to get people to see physics as it really is (and physicists as they really are!) and not as a stereotype.

Advice for future STEMinists?
If you know that a STEM career is for you, get an early start. You don’t have to be in tenth grade with a full time summer lab job, but keep on the lookout for interesting programs, internships, or opportunities to work in scientific settings. Also, be open to trying new things in science. If you’re curious about both the chemistry of the oceans and observing far away black holes, try both. Combine this with an early start and you will have a lot of opportunities to find out what type of science you are passionate about.

Also, don’t underestimate how important your communication skills are. A lot of people think that to be successful in STEM careers all you need to be is good at doing science. But an integral part of these fields is helping others understand what you are doing and why it’s important.

Favorite website or app:
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comics – There are always so many super funny comics about math and science. Either that or a number of celebrity gossip sites, because that’s definitely my guilty pleasure.

Twitter: @SaraDoesScience
Website: saradoesscience.tumblr.com

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Jaime Hutchison, Ph.D. Student in Physics

Jaime Hutchison

Jaime Hutchison

Ph.D. Student in Physics
The University of Massachusetts Amherst



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always enjoyed math and science in middle and high school, and I have an uncle who is a physicist. Both my parents and I assumed I would continue on with math and science after high school, however, I rebelled a bit when it came time to make a decision about college and ended up at art school. After art school I entered the work force as a bank teller. In my early twenties I began really missing math and science. I was working hard, but was not being challenged mentally. I borrowed some of my uncle’s physics textbooks and began going through them on my own after work. Eventually I decided to go back to school and ended up getting my bachelors degree in physics when I was 29.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Of course I think the coolest project I’ve worked on is the one I’m working on now! I’m interested in membrane proteins that are able to both sense particular membrane curvature and induce changes in membrane curvature. What I love about this project is that it has required a very interdisciplinary approach. I’m a physicist at heart, but while working with these proteins I’ve learned a bunch of chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular biology.

Role models/heroes:
I’m always inspired by scientists (or anyone, really) who doesn’t have blinders on. By that I mean scientists who are sincerely interested in things that are going on outside their particular subfield.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Well, I don’t ALWAYS love it. When things are going well—you’re getting data, and you have some idea of what the data is saying, it’s supremely exciting and makes it all worthwhile. The other side of the coin is the struggle that comes when things aren’t working, or when things are working but you don’t understand what the data is telling you. For me the most difficult part of doing research is overcoming the fear that you have no idea what is going on and that everyone else on the planet must have a better understanding of it than you do. I guess, in the end, I just love the challenge. It’s a challenge to get everything working, it’s a challenge to understand your results in as detailed and precise a way as you can, and it’s a challenge to then communicate those results to the scientific community.

Advice for future STEMinists?
As with any career I would suggest trying to make sure that you’re doing something you love to do (at least most of the time). For me a key part of figuring this out was becoming involved in research as an undergraduate. I was able to get a pretty accurate glimpse into what graduate school and life in the lab would be like.

Favorite website or app:
For STEM-related issues: FemaleScienceProfessor 
For a good laugh: Damn You Auto Correct

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Mikel “Micky” Holcomb, Assistant Professor of Physics, West Virginia Univ.

Mikel Holcomb

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.

Twitter: @MickyMusic
Site: http://community.wvu.edu/~mbh039/