What sparked your interest in science?
I remember loving nature at a very young age. When I was about three years old, I had a kiddy pool and I would catch frogs, put them in my pool, and swim with them! I had planned to be a veterinarian all through college, but near the end of college, I started asking a lot of questions about nature rather than simply loving it for its inherent beauty. I started wondering “Why is this thing like that?” and “What impact are we having on the natural world?” I began taking more courses focused on research and learning how we are impacting the world (the animals, climate, and ecosystems). That drove me to go to graduate school to study wildlife science and natural resource management.
How do you balance your work and personal life?
It can be challenging, especially because I tend to feel an underlying sense of pressure to be successful. Earlier in my career, I didn’t have much of a balance. I worked a lot and my husband would say that, too. But now that I’ve gotten a little older, I don’t want to take my life outside of work for granted. Life’s not all about work, it’s also about having fun, traveling, and spending time with your family. Since I’ve had a child, I feel like I’ve gotten better at being 100% on at work while I’m there, and then being 100% present with my family when I’m away from work. Whatever I need to do that day at work, I work really hard to make sure it gets done, so I don’t have to focus on it when I get home.
The other important part of having a balance is surrounding yourself with supportive mentors and colleagues. For example, if my bosses didn’t also value work/life balance, they may expect me to immediately respond to emails at night or on weekends, which would interfere with my family time. But because my bosses also value that balance, they work hard to protect my personal time, too.
What advice would you give a high schooler considering a career in STEM?
I would say right now, don’t be too stressed out or overwhelmed with the undergraduate program you get into. You are still at an age where you can enjoy your summers and hang out with family and friends while you’re still near them. Try to find a few great internships to get real-world, hands-on experiences, as well as some helpful mentors, to give you advice along the way, but make sure you also take time to do other things that make you happy!
What is something you wish that young students did, but they usually don’t?
I wish I would’ve taken the time to get a job in the real world before I went to graduate school, rather than immediately entering a graduate program after my bachelor’s degree. This would have given me additional experience that would have helped guide my future career path.
Also, I’ve found it to be important to have a well-rounded set of varied skills in my career, versus being Get practice honing other types of skills that can round out your resume even if they don’t necessarily seem to fit with science. In STEM, writing skills are super important, so really getting a good understanding and appreciation for writing, for reading scientific literature and other types of literature will be useful. Find out what things are needed or important in the world right now – like understanding policy or communicating via social media. These skills have seemed to give me an edge over other candidates, and I’m always impressed when I am hiring interns and they have expertise in other areas, too.
Do you have a science role model?
I’m always inspired by women in STEM. I’m particularly inspired by women who have worked their way up into high positions and now use it as a platform to speak about their journey and advocate for equal rights, inclusion, and diversity. Diversity in the workplace is so important for incorporating varied points of view, which leads to innovation in science and non-science fields, too. My hope is that it becomes easier for underrepresented groups to see themselves in those careers and that they find role models in those fields that they can relate to.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Right now, the most challenging part of my job is being intentional about staying in touch with people who I’ve built collaborations with previously. If I haven’t worked with them in a while, it’s easy for me to forget to reach out and reconnect. I’ve learned it’s crucial to keep good records of my communications and schedule time throughout the day to maintain those relationships.
What are your goals for Project Feed 1010?
Short term I want to finish this curriculum module that was working on called Sustainable Agriculture. It’s the second part of a three-part curricular piece called “Modeling Sustainable Food Systems”. The first part module is called “Food Security”, which we are field-testing in classrooms around the country right now. We are hoping to have the Sustainable Agriculture module complete by the end of the summer, field-tested with the Project Feed 1010 Ambassadors, and tested in classrooms this school year. Another goal of mine is for the Project Feed 1010 Ambassadors be at a place where they feel excited and confident to go back to their schools and implement projects in their own communities.
Long term, I have a really big picture goal for Project Feed 1010. I hope that it, along with many other movements and research outcomes, continues to spark conversations around the world about people being intentional with the way that they grow their food, the way they select their diets, and who they support when purchasing their food. I also hope to continue research on sustainable food systems to answer questions regarding 1) some of the complex biological systems that interact with plants to influence growth and disease resistance and 2) mitigating issues of resource consumption and sustainability when growing food.
How long have you taught in a classroom?
I taught in a classroom for three years. I taught AP Environmental Science, chemistry, and medical science. But when I was in graduate school I also taught two undergraduate courses. Teaching gave me great experience working with students and teachers, which has made me successful in my current position at ISB. I love that I can have the perspective of a teacher and I can typically foresee what a teacher would or would not want to teach and how students would react to the material.
Do you think what you’re doing in systems biology education is making a difference?
For the teachers who have found a way to do more inquiry-based teaching, we have been able to provide them with many different options to teach systems-thinking and gain complex problem-solving skills. For the teachers who have yet to make the transition to this type of teaching, we are able to train them in the use of our curriculum. It’s incredible getting feedback from these teachers – they’re very enthusiastic and excited to see their students be deeply engaged and actually retain (rather than memorize) information! Through our internships, we’re providing a great, real-world experience for students so they better understand the scientific process and explore careers in STEM while they’re in high school or college. I wish I would have had an experience like this as a student!