Alka Tripathy-Lang

Contractor and freelance writer

And - thermochronologist

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Working in STEM allows me to constantly improve myself and the world around me.

What do you do?

"I wear multiple hats. I'm a self-employed contractor who does work for a non-profit organization. I also have a zero-hour affiliation with Berkeley Geochronology Center, where I am working to publish papers from my postdoc that focus on low-temperature thermochronology, a geology sub-discipline.

With my "serious science" hat I use noble gas geochemistry to understand the path a given rock traveled to arrive at the surface of the earth.

My "fun" hat is that of a science writer. Recently, I have been writing extensively about seismology and related fields. My usual #scicomm involves translating complex but interesting academic articles into a more digestible science highlight for the general public. I do this via both freelance writing and under contract."

Why did you choose this field?

"As a little girl of ~3-4 years old, I remember my string-instrument-playing siblings taking their violins to a luthier, who also happened to be an amateur paleontologist. Mr. Bowman would encourage me to explore his parking lot, which had all sorts of interesting snail fossils. He would then regale me with stories of the snails' past lives, and let me take home my precious finds. This wondrous experience left a strong imprint on my young mind; long after we stopped visiting the String Shop, I would tell anyone who asked, "When I grow up, I'm going to be a geologist or paleontologist." 



After years of collecting rocks and insisting my mom buy me shiny specimens from the Discovery Store, I forgot about it in the throes of high school. I started my undergraduate college experience as a biochemistry major, but found myself in an introductory geology class. Almost immediately, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed decoding the history of a rock or fossil, and changed my major expediently. And so I become a geologist. 



After I received my MS and PhD, where I slowly narrowed my focus to low-temperature thermochronology, and we pick up the unexpected and welcomed detour to science writing. My time as a postdoc began in 2012. My husband and I live in Phoenix, but I *really* wanted to pursue a postdoc at the Berkeley Geochronology Center. My postdoc advisor, David Shuster, was incredibly understanding, and agreed to a half time appointment where I would come and go as needed for lab work. Between 2013-2018, I also had 2 kids, which meant travel to Berkeley decreased dramatically. Toward the end of my postdoc, I realized that I needed a job where I could work from home, set my own hours, and also focus on my kids. I needed this for my own mental health. My science network led me to science writing, which I do on a contractual basis, and I couldn't be happier. It may not be steady work, but this tradeoff is worth it for the flexibility."

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

Younger me had no idea what coding was, much less that I could do it. Every time I write a piece of code, no matter how simple (or complex), I'm perhaps overly proud of the accomplishment! I wish younger me had been introduced to coding and practiced it often.

Why do you love working in STEM?

"I am a life-long learner. When I become a super-adult (what my kids call older, retired people), I want to continue to learn and discover. 



Some days, I'm running models to understand my data, and every time I get a result, it's exciting! Other days, I'm reading articles describing the latest that other people have discovered. On days spent lost in writing, I'm improving my craft. Even on days where nothing seems to be working (labwork, anyone?), I'm still learning via troubleshooting. Working in STEM allows me to constantly improve myself and the world around me."

Best advice for next generation?

"Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it. When I was in the 6th grade, I applied to a STEM-based summer camp at a local university, and I didn't get in. That got me down, and although I loved science and math classes through junior high and high school, I stopped pursing STEM experiences outside of regular coursework. I wish someone would have told me that a single rejection needn't define me, and that a STEM experience as an adult, particularly in academia, is full of rejection (e.g. graduate schools, academic articles, jobs). Every rejection is an opportunity to improve and ask "what could I have done better?" 



Also, don't be afraid of networking, especially with other women in STEM! Growing your network will increase your opportunities, enhance collaborations, and strengthen your own voice."

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”- The Yosemite, by John Muir (1912)

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