PhD student, Victoria University of Wellington
Don't forget to keep an eye on the big picture.
What do you do?
I work in a lab studying rare interactions of bone marrow cells with genetic tools. My project is looking at ways to identify transfer of mitochondria between cells of the bone marrow in a murine model, using genetic tools such as 'allele-specific PCR' (selective amplification of a sequence) or 'deep sequencing' (sequencing with high coverage of the DNA) to let us work out how often this transfer might be happening.
Why did you choose this field?
I didn't have a particular moment I decided I wanted to do biology, it's been a gradual process really. I've always enjoyed science and the scientific method; I'm a pretty logical person and I like puzzles, which a lot of research is kind of like. However I do have very wide interests, and would probably be content doing any sort of new knowledge creation. I'm always reading pop science outside my field. In addition to science I did a major in politics, and I'm interested in music, film and scicomm too, as well as technology and new ways of doing things, which is why I took biotechnology as a major. I lost my aunt to cancer 10 years ago which helped me decide to focus on that as an area of biology, and I think it has the potential to help a lot of people. Scientifically, I find cancer really fascinating, considering the fact that unlike a lot of diseases, it is caused not by external invasion, but by your own body rebelling against you. I've also had good role models at my university who really encouraged me and convinced me I could do post-grad work. I don't think I would have had the self-confidence otherwise.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
Any of my post-grad degrees. I've done an Honours and a Masters thesis already, and am most of the way through a PhD, which young me would never thought I was smart enough for!
Why do you love working in STEM?
I think the best part is getting to work with super smart people, and learning something new every day. It's pretty inspiring to be able to interact with people that have so much knowledge. Knowing that new science is out there, and all you have to do is find it is pretty awesome. My motivation is the knowledge that hopefully I'll contribute even in a small way to making the world slightly better. And when there is a mystery, I need to find out what the answer is!
Best advice for next generation?
Luckily I haven't had very many people underestimate me in my life; unluckily the person most likely to underestimate myself is me. Even if you haven't heard of imposter syndrome, you've probably felt it at some point, and women in science seem to be particularly prone to it. I've struggled with anxiety and feelings of low self-worth and it's a constant struggle to remind myself that what I'm doing is actually really difficult and I should be proud of how far I've come. Even if you don't have those issues, I would recommend finding a stress outlet, whether that be exercise, therapy, hobbies outside your work, or a close friend to vent to (or all of the above!) In my Honours year I pretty much cut myself off from everyone and went to cry in the bathrooms every day. Don't do that. I mean sometimes you need to have a good cry to get it out of your system, but don't hide from everyone. Feeling isolated makes everything worse. Definitely find someone to talk to if you're feeling stressed. And don't be afraid to ask for help. I've found everything in moderation is a good rule. Often you will need to work really hard, and don't get me wrong it'll be tough and you'll want to give up. But after that, give yourself a little break, whatever that means for you. The constant failure in STEM is really challenging. You have to develop a thick skin, there's just no other way around it. Experiments will not work far more than they ever do, and a really important skill is when that happens to stay calm and consider what to do next rather than getting into a self-pity spiral. Don't forget to keep an eye on the big picture.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Carl Sagan