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science

Blog Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Laila Kasuri, Water Policy Analyst

Laila Kasuri

Water Policy Analyst

Global Green Growth Institute


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I originally wanted a career in a field that I felt would impact the world. I was born in Pakistan, a country where poverty and human rights abuse are part and parcel of life. I found that working in the public sector was inefficient and ineffective, and the only way to move forward was embracing technology. In fact, technology has impacted the lives of people more than any single leader or politician.

I decided to therefore pursue a career in engineering, which I felt would equip me with the technical skills to design solutions to the world’s biggest problem, which an activist, politician, leader, or any public official would still not be able to do without having the pre-requisite skills. Today, I work in the water sector with an international organization that designs solutions for green growth. I presently am working on projects in Vietnam, Cambodia, Jordan and India.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There are too many to be honest, but perhaps if I had to choose one, it was during my undergraduate, where I worked on an independent research project that looked at the Mississippi River and the Indus River. Both rivers encounter seasonal flooding but the way officials manage flooding was what was more interesting.

I developed a GIS-based decision support tool using hydrodynamic models and GIS which would provide policy makers the necessary information to identify areas that are likely to get flooded, and at what levels. I used this model to look at river stretches of the Indus and Mississippi. The research was also awarded a Hoopes Award of $6000, which is the highest accolade awarded by Harvard University for research.

My entire journey here: https://www.seas.harvard.edu/blog/2017/07/alumni-profile-laila-kasuri-ab-13

Role models and heroes:
A great role model and mentor was my own advisor, John Briscoe, who passed away in 2015. He was a water practitioner from South Africa, and also won the Stockholm Water Prize in 2014. He was a strong force in pushing me to pursue STEM and grow in a field that was inundated by men.

I am currently trying to expand mentors who are more entrepreneurial. Elon Musk is someone I really consider as my hero. I always wish I had the ability to take risks the way he did. I also think that his relentlessness, despite failure is inspirational.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I really like solving puzzles, and STEM allows me to solve puzzles and also make a difference at the same time. In fact, a simple problem such as sanitation can be solved by engineers who can now innovate and valorise waste to produce energy. Similarly, working on hydropower projects is exciting especially to see how water can be used to run appliances in our homes. It is exciting to know that STEM can be used to solve some of the greatest challenges in the world! I have truly had some very exciting opportunities through STEM!

Advice for future STEMinists?
I advise them to become leaders! All too often, women become followers and hardly ever find mentors who can encourage them to take risks. I really suggest future STEMinists to take risks and also fail. For every opportunity I have gotten, I must have failed at least ten times. For every job offer or fellowship I got, I received at least twenty rejections. It’s certainly difficult to be rejected time and time again, especially if the candidate selected is a man who can visit more sites or work in certain areas, but I am always glad I tried!

Favorite website or app: Google Maps. I’ve managed to explore so many countries alone and experience a rich, diverse live through the ability to navigate!

Twitter: @lailakasuri
Site: lailakasuri.wordpress.com

Blog Profiles

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.

Blog Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Hannah Frerker, Student Researcher

Hannah Frerker

Student Researcher

Greenville University


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have always had a passion for science, especially medicine, in high school I had a teacher who really pushed me and believed in me to pursue my double major in biology and chemistry. Since being in college, I have had professors who have pushed me and helped me get to where I am today.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I am currently a part of a Chemistry research project on water quality analysis. It is so amazing because not only are we doing some amazing chemistry, but we are helping so many people with our research! We are doing metal analysis, microbial analysis, nitrate analysis, and testing for pharmaceuticals in Southern Illinois well water.

Role models and heroes:
My research professor is my biggest role model as he works so hard and is always pushing me to my fullest potential. My other role model would probably be the first woman to ever graduate from medical school, Elizabeth Blackwell, as I cannot imagine how difficult medical school was as I am sure she constantly had people doubting her and trying to get her to drop out.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
It is my passion, I love every minute I spend working with any science. The things I can do with STEM, and the opportunities it provides are truly amazing. The doors it has opened up for me will give me such an edge in life.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Stay motivated and work hard, it is difficult for everyone but if this is what you love then it is so worth it.
Also do not underestimate the power of networking! My research project has really taken off simply because of the power of networking and the kindness of other people in the science community!

Favorite website or app:
I love Quizlet, Pinterest, and Twitter!

Twitter: @hanfrerker16

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Ellen Kendall, Student Researcher

Ellen Kendall

Student Researcher

Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio, USA)


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I started conducting experiments in my basement as a freshman in high school. I got involved with regional science fairs, and slowly progressed to the state, national, and international level. I never had much equipment or resources, but I was always curious and inspired to create.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Over the past four years in high school, I have developed an inexpensive and renewable water filter that removes heavy metals from polluted water. This filter is made out of a chemical derived from seaweed, and it can be used to stop heavy metal pollution in the environment and can be used to purify drinking water in the global community.

This is the coolest project I have worked on because I have worked on the project in my basement, but its impact can be very large. This project reminded me that STEM does not always have to be expensive or complicated. All that is needed is a will to find a cure and the energy to push your ideas forward. I was 13 when I first presented this project, and it has now gained international recognition.

Role models and heroes:
SO MANY. There are so many role models in STEM, and there is no possible way I can list them all out. In history, Rosalind Franklin and Marie Curie are very influential for their confidence and efforts to pursue their careers in science. As a NASA nerd, I look up to Eileen Collins and all of the current female astronauts and DoD scientists.

On a personal note, I look up to some of my friends who have made large impacts in STEM fields at early ages. One of my close friends, Jack Andraka, developed a method to detect pancreatic cancer by a simple urine test strip. Jack developed this test at the young age of 15, and he now is a public advocate for STEM and innovation in youth.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I love STEM because there are so many problems in this world that can be eradicated by science. My high school sponsored a school in Uganda, and the school lacked access to clean drinking water. As a high school freshman, I was able to research inexpensive water filters from my home in the USA. STEM allows me to be creative on a daily basis. I love having a job where there is no right answer, and I can get my hands dirty and try again time after time.

STEM is a global initiative that is not bound by race, ethnicity, politics, or stereotypes. On each project, we constantly build off of the people that have come before us. STEM has allowed me to become an active member in the global community- it has given me the opportunity to become connected to international students and cultures that I would have not had the opportunity to learn about without STEM.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Where there is a will, there is a way.

STEM is not about who has the best training or resources, rather it is about the passion you have for a better world. As a young female scientist, I was worried that I could not compete with the big kids with the university level education or equipment, but I went for it anyway. Follow your passions regardless of gender stereotypes or age!

Favorite website or app:
Anatomy 4D, Wolfram Alpha, Pinterest, TED, Facebook, Twitter

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Melissa Marquez, Founder of The Fins United Initiative

Melissa Marquez

Founder

The Fins United Initiative (www.finsunited.co.nz)


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
There is nowhere I would rather be than making observations outside in nature. For me, the ocean holds my curiosity and passion. I was born with an extreme fascination for misunderstood predators and sharks are the most misunderstood predator of them all.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
That’s a tough one! I have worked on a multitude of Chondrichthyan (shark, skate, ray, and chimaera) projects around the world. Science has allowed me to travel around the world and for that, I am grateful and humbled.

I think my most enjoyable project has been where I worked with animals not in my area of expertise: rehabilitating manatees and otters in Belize. I met some amazing people from all corners of the globe, and it pushed me both physically and mentally like no other field work. These animals are dear to my heart and I never thought I would get to work with them, so I was very excited to get the chance to!

Role models and heroes:
I have so many people I look up to and have helped shape my outlook on life and my career. However, the three that have been constants since I was little are David Attenborough, Eugenie Clark and Sylvia Earle, who are all big role models and heroes for me.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I hope I am always a student– always learning. And my job allows me to learn new things EVERY DAY. It’s the coolest thing.

I also get to meet people from all backgrounds who bring such unique POVs. I love seeing things from their angle and challenging my viewpoints.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Just follow your instincts – you can never please everyone. Know your worth.

Favorite website or app:
I love the twitter community!

Twitter: @mcmsharksxx

Site: [email protected]

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Mallory Ladd, NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Chemistry & Climate Science

Mallory Ladd

NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Chemistry & Climate Science

Oak Ridge National Laboratory


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was always a curious kid and very lucky to have had super supportive parents and teachers who nurtured my curiosity and led me to science for answers from a very early age. Also though, I think a little part of me decided to pursue STEM in college because of everyone and anyone who said that I couldn’t. I wanted to prove them wrong and prove to myself that I could do it.

After my undergrad in chemistry, I was hooked. I decided to go to graduate school because I wanted to learn more about how to “do” research, and make new discoveries. I wanted to learn how to think like a scientist, and work on questions that could someday impact how we live. I wanted to make a difference in the world somehow, and science is what inspires me to try and do that each day.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The *coolest* project I’ve worked on is definitely the one I’m working on right now for my dissertation work, the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE-Arctic) project at ORNL! ???? The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet and holds huge stores of carbon below ground, frozen in the permafrost. NGEE’s goal is to improve climate model predictions of how the Arctic is going to respond to warming temperatures in the future.

My research focuses on determining how the molecular composition of these permafrost soils may be driving the release of greenhouse gases from these systems, and if that chemical signature can be used as a predictor to help identify “hotspots” of vulnerability across the landscape. But the cool science isn’t my only favorite thing about this project…

Although the Arctic is generally known for its freezing temperatures, biting winds, and swarms of mosquitoes in the summer, getting out of the lab and visiting our field sites in Alaska to collect samples has been an invaluable opportunity to learn about the complexity of natural systems and just how much climate change is impacting Americans right now.

As a Department of Energy-led initiative, NGEE has given me the opportunity to work with chemists, biologists, computer scientists, and engineers, from universities and national laboratories from all around the country and meet people from all around the world. Being a part of a such a large interdisciplinary team has shown me a new perspective on how scientists from many different fields can, and must work together to tackle the world’s greatest problems and questions, including climate change.

Role models and heroes:
My family, friends, teachers, and faculty mentors in undergrad and graduate school have always been my greatest support system and source of inspiration. And in addition to every woman that came before me to blaze the trail for more us to pursue STEM, my role models also include all of my STEMinist colleagues in the Bredesen Center and at the University of Tennessee. They all come from such unique backgrounds and are tackling fascinating research questions. Pursuing a PhD is tough, but some of my colleagues are pursuing their PhD while also becoming a mom. I’d love to see a guy try and finish his PhD over a summer in South, while pregnant with twins… ????

Why do you loving working in STEM?
Working in a STEM field has taught me to question everything, and think for myself. It’s too easy to get caught up with reading the latest viral article on the internet and take it as fact. Part of becoming a scientist is learning how to “zoom out”, think about everything as objectively as possible by looking at it from multiple angles, make conclusions based on facts and the best data available, and then keep asking more questions. For me, science turns “I don’t know” into “I don’t know yet…” and that’s what inspires me every day.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Some of the best advice I received early on was that each STEM field has its own unique culture and being aware of that culture when choosing a field to work in, or when trying to communicate between fields, can be extremely helpful. Until more recently, these science cultures have mostly been shaped by white men.

Being in a science field may seem unfamiliar or even uncomfortable at times. There will be days where you question whether you want to stay in your STEM field. With every woman that perseveres through the tough days, and succeeds in her field, we change that culture just that little bit more. Don’t change yourself to fit into the culture you see there. Stand out. Be different. Change the culture to include YOU. 🙂

Favorite website or app:
I wouldn’t be a good science communicator without shamelessly plugging my website and blog Think Like A Postdoc, which aims to help high school, undergraduate, and graduate students navigate working in a STEM field and to help bridge the gap between scientists in the lab and the broader public: http://malloryladd.com

Twitter: @massspecmaven

Site: malloryladd.com

Blog

STEMinist Profile: Elizabeth Blaeser, Infection Preventionist / Science Screenprinter

Elizabeth Blaeser

Infection Preventionist / Science Screenprinter

UPenn Medicine / Fraggles & Friggles


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My parents really inspired my love of science. My Dad would read articles to me from Science News when I was really young and my Mom loved talking to me about anthropology and geology (my Dad still sends me articles to this day and I go rock hunting with my Mom). Then, in biology class in high school, it really hit me how much I truly loved the subject matter. I just couldn’t get enough.

From there I went to college for biology, worked as a research assistant in a pediatric gastroenterology department, went to get my masters in Public Health Microbiology and Emerging Infectious Diseases, worked at the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA), worked at a state health department as an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist, and ultimately, ended up being an Infection Preventionist for a hospital.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
There were a lot of unusual and interesting things that came up while working at the state health department. The coolest was probably investigating a statewide outbreak of Shigella from a crowded 4th of July weekend at a local beach.

Role models and heroes:
I am kind of obsessed with Darwin. I wouldn’t say he was my hero per se, just that he made some incredible discoveries that changed the world forever. My role models are the strong professional women in my life. My current boss is incredible and I really look up to her. She is one of the few female department chiefs in our hospital network, she is incredibly knowledgeable, smart, and confident.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I learn something new and interesting every day! I know it’s cliche, but it’s so true. Even if it’s not at work, I get to read about incredible discoveries!

Advice for future STEMinists?
Reach out to alumni, friends, professors – anyone who has more experience in the field and the breadth of professional opportunities. Trust me, if you’re interested in science and don’t want to get an MD or PhD, you can still be in science! There are way more possibilities and types of jobs out there that you probably had never even heard of. Go out and explore!

Favorite website or app:
I screenprint punny science-related designs at www.fragglesandfriggles.etsy.com

Twitter: @fraggsandfriggs

Site: fragglesandfriggles.com

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Geeky Mikita, Physics Genius, Babysitter and STEM student

Geeky Mikita

Winner of the All Schools Everywhere Science Competition

Character in the book A Fairy in the Family Again


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I wanted to have a dinosaur as a pet and when my parents said “No” I tried to clone a dinosaur. That didn’t work. Then my science teacher, Miss Treacle, and I did a project where we designed and built an animatronic robot dinosaur. I have been doing STEM projects ever since.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I helped one of the other babysitters Keysha with her nail varnish project. I am sure you know that pearly nail varnishes get their pearliness from fish scales. Well, Keysha and I have a new pearly ingredient that means we don’t have to bother any fish. Helping animals and creatures with science is cool.

Role models and heroes:
My teacher Miss Treacle makes science fun. I really like Anne-Marie Amafidon from London who is a STEMette. The Stemettes do free events for girls. They have coding workshops, exhibitions and school trips. There’s always food. Anne-Marie Imafidon thinks girls should go on and work in STEM to help solve the world’s problems and I sooooo agree with her.

I like all the Hidden Figures mathematicians who helped to get human beings into space. Stephen Hawking is an impressive multi-tasker and so is Beyonce. Stephen Hawking is a cosmologist as well as a theoretical physicist and Beyonce is a mum as well as a musical genius. They are like me cos I had to babysit and do my homework at the same time.

Why do you loving working in STEM?
The best thing about doing projects is meeting people who help you with your project. They might see a way to do things that you would never have thought of. Bekki the Fairy helped me out when my particle accelerator didn’t work. I was stuck. I had made a machine for looking at particles and it wasn’t working. My machine was seven feet long and they really need to be about 17 miles like the Hadron Collider.

Miss Treacle has a friend who worked at CERN, the amazing centre in Switzerland where they built the giant Hadron Collider. He helped me and Miss Treacle to design a linear collider. Our collider was good, it was just a bit small for the job.

Well, I got stuck and didn’t know what to do. Bekki the Fairy did a fab spell that let me see particles and take pictures of them on my phone. Now the project is done and other scientists can use the information we found.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Ask for help. Honestly, some girls are such jelly-babies when it comes for asking for help. A supportive group is the best thing.

With my project looking for particles I got the other babysitters to help me collect Eezee Sneezee tissue boxes to build my particle accelerator. So, when I won it was like we all won. That’s science for you.

Favorite website or app:
Astronomy Photo of the Day. I like looking at the places that I will travel to one day so I like NASA’s site.

Website: avriloreilly.com. Geeky Mikita stars in A Fairy in the Family Again by Avril O’Reilly.

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Rebecca Lobo, Postdoctoral Fellow

Rebecca Lobo

Postdoctoral Fellow

University of California-Davis


What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My high school chemistry teacher was so passionate. I remember sitting in her class and thinking “This is so much fun!”. That’s what inspired me to be an undergraduate major in chemistry. As I studied the subject more, I realized how useful and practical chemistry was in its application to everyday life. I loved being the person who could translate food labels, decipher the ingredients in a lotion and figure out how to get old ink off a dry erase board using lotion (yay organic chem!!).

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My most interesting project to date is my postdoc work on HuangLongBing (HLB) disease. It can be likened to the Ebola of the plant world. It is caused by a bacterium that kills citrus trees and has slashed citrus production in Florida by 50% already. There is no cure and, to date, no reliable early detection test.

I head a collaborative project to develop an early detection test for HLB. I am able to use my chemistry, coding and management skills to help save citrus! How cool is that?

Role models and heroes:
My current professor, Dr. Carolyn Slupsky
Dr. Robert Cardiff
Isaiah Hankel
Cassey Ho

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I love being able to make a difference in society.
I love being able to understand and explain chemistry.
It makes me feel kickass, like I can do anything, because really, if I set my mind to it, I can!

Advice for future STEMinists?
You can achieve anything as long as you believe in yourself.

Ignore people who tell you you cannot do something or who put you down. Usually that means they are threatened by you.

Women operate differently than men. You are not less talented/weird/not cut it for science just because you communicate or approach problems differently. Look around the room. You may just be the minority (in lots of different ways) and your mentors and peers may not understand you. Embrace your differences, delve deep into them, understand them and make them your strengths.

Favorite website or app:
Can I go with favorite software? Mathematica!

Profiles

STEMinist Profile: Garima Gupta, Graduate Student / Regional Executive Officer, Robogals North America

Garima Gupta

Graduate Student / Regional Executive Officer, Robogals North America

Robogals



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have always enjoyed math and science and it has been my dream since I was nine to become an astronaut and the first person on Mars. So my interests and dreams naturally led to engineering. My parents are both engineers and fantastic role models, so their excitement for the field and their support of my goals has helped a lot as well.

After being immersed in STEM for so long, I can’t really imagine doing anything else!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest project I’ve ever worked on was during my undergrad. As part of the Kirschvink Lab at Caltech, I helped design, construct, and test a stage that would simulate the systematic movement of a magnetometer placed on a Martian rover’s instrument arm. The stage helped us find evidence of lightning strikes in rocks on Earth and a similar technology could help us do the same thing on Mars. This data could help us confirm the past existence of water on the planet and help us determine which rocks to avoid for sample return.

It was amazing to get to work on a project that combined mechanical, electrical, computer, and systems engineering as well as the geological and planetary sciences. I loved it!

I’m excited for some upcoming projects too though. I’ll be a propulsion intern at SpaceX this summer; can’t wait to see what I get to work on!

Role models and heroes:
My Parents: patient, supportive, and persevering.
Eileen Collins: incredible woman/pilot/astronaut and very humble too!
Amelia Earhart & Dara Torres: perfect examples of letting nothing stop you from achieving your goals.
Peter Diamandis: has an infectious sense of motivation and passion for his work; I hope I can communicate my excitement that well!

Why do you loving working in STEM?
I really enjoy making things with my own hands (whether it be a program on a computer or a part on the lathe) and seeing those become components in larger projects. I love that these projects always have some connection to a “bigger picture.” Working in STEM allows me to solve real-world problems and at the same time, further my dream of becoming an astronaut.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Find other people that are passionate about the same things that you are and surround yourself with them. They will not only inspire you on a daily basis and but you will also help each other accomplish exactly what you set out to accomplish (or maybe even more)!

Favorite website or app:
I really like this app “Bonza” – it’s a game that combines crossword and jigsaw puzzles. So fun! 🙂

Twitter: @AstroGarima