Rocio.jpg

Casandra Newkirk

Postdoctoral Fellow

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

,,

Be bold in what you want. Advocate for yourself.

,,

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am a marine biologist who specializes in studying the cnidarian-algal symbiotic relationship. My work has largely used model cnidarian systems, in place of vulnerable coral species, to better understand how this relationship functions on a cellular level. I have worked in this field since I was a graduate student, and have expanded my questions into my current postdoctoral position. I hope the findings from my research can contribute to the perservation of our reef systems, and the restoration of our critical marine habitats.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I decided to become a marine biologist when I was in 7th grade. I knew I really enjoyed learning about marine animals and the ocean, but I wasn't well aware of the opportunities out there to pursue my curosity as a career. After showing my aunt all of my ocean related items, she suggested I look into what marine biologists do. After reading some books from the library, I was hooked. During my time in college I participated in three internships all geared towards marine biology, and enjoyed them so much I decided to apply to PhD programs. While at the University of Florida as a graduate student I started my work on cnidarian-symbiosis and became very passionate about learning more about this complex relationship. Now as a postdoctoral fellow, I can say being a marine biologist is different that what I expected when I was twelve, but very fulfilling and I can't wait to see where my career takes me.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

Graduate school was a big obstacle for me. As a PhD student one of the big things expected is independent work in designing and carrying out experiments. Prior to that most of my experience had been in the form of performing experiments that had already been designed and aligned with ongoing projects. I had to learn quickly during my first few years how to think not only critically but creatively to tackle some of the questions I was interested in. I overcame this by finding mentors to run ideas by and get help from, taking courses that aimed to increase critical thinking skills in relation to science, and just getting in the lab as often as possible to attempt different experiments. I also became comfortable with failure (as most experiments do not work the first time) and dusting myself of and trying again!

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

I wish I would have known it was possible achieve your goals even when things are incredibly difficult. I lost my mom a few months ago and have been trying to navigate life without her. Since her loss I have been awarded a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation and made significant gains in other areas of my life. It's comforting to know that I can still make her proud.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

I love working in STEM because I love exploring. Having the privilege to ask a question about my subject area and to be provided with the tools to try and tackle the question is amazing. Being able to have a small hand in solving serious issues makes it all worth it.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

I would say be bold in what you want. Pursue things even if people tell you that you aren't cut out for it and prove them wrong! Never apologize for setting boundaries, and also advocate for yourself (as you are the only person that will in many situations).

INSPIRATION

My favorite quote is "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anaïs Nin