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Maria Linn-Evans

PhD Candidate in Neuroscience, University of Minnesota

 

I like that my work has real world applications that may someday improve the way we treat Parkinson's disease.

What do you do?

My job is unique because as a PhD Candidate, I am both a student and a researcher. Some of my time is spent taking courses, attending seminars, and reading papers to learn about neuroscience. The other part of my job is hands-on research investigating the relationship between brain activity and movement in Parkinson's disease. This involves visits with our research volunteers, data processing and analysis, and presenting our findings in posters and papers.

Why did you choose this field?

I chose to go to graduate school for neuroscience after completing a summer research position focused on sleep disorders. At the time I was studying biomedical engineering, but I realized after my summer program that research was a better fit for me. I enjoyed the process of analyzing and interpreting data, and I liked that research added knowledge to our understanding of neurological disorders. I chose to study neuroscience because there are many brain disorders that are both life-altering and incurable - the brain controls how you interact with the world and is crucial to each person's personality and identity.

 

It was important to me to study a topic that could improve the lives of others, so I was naturally drawn to neurodegenerative disorders. I also chose to study Parkinson's disease because there was still a lot of room to use my engineering skills, such as computer programming and biomechanics. Although neither of my parents are scientists, I think I ultimately see both of them in my career choice - my dad does computer program development and my mom works in special education, so I like that I have combined pieces of each of their interests.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

"Being a scientist was an abstract idea growing up, so reaching a point where I truly feel confident calling myself a scientist was a major personal achievement.

I attended my first national research conference this year and had the opportunity to present a poster about my research project. Presenting at this conference was the first time I felt like a true scientist, which is something my younger self would have been so excited to hear.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love working in STEM because I get to be creative and intellectually challenged every day. I also like that my work has real world applications that may someday improve the way we treat Parkinson's disease. When I wake up in the morning, I look forward to digging through data and finding things that have never been described before - each day is an opportunity for discovery. 

Best advice for the next generation

Find a community that supports you - whether this is a club for girls in STEM, or a wonderful science teacher - having people who can encourage you is so valuable. STEM can be difficult beyond just the intense classes - sometimes you may be the only woman in your physics course, or you may hear discouraging stereotypes, or you may not feel like you are enough. You community can remind you that you are an amazing woman who can succeed in STEM!

Fun fact


I recently won a local contest for the best new ice cream flavor! My flavor was a lemon ice cream with blueberry pie filling swirls and pieces of pound cake. Later this summer my neighborhood ice cream shop will sell it in stores!