Graduate Research Assistant, National High Magnetic Field Laboratory & Florida State University

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If you have a true passion for any area of STEM, you shouldn’t let the statistics turn you away.

Zeljka Popovic

What do you do?

As a graduate research assistant, my job is to perform research daily. My research focus is on the field of proteomics. Proteomics is defined as the large-scale study of proteins. My aim is to develop new techniques in studying these proteins as wells as looking into proteins that cause various disease states. Because proteins are so small studying and understanding them is quite difficult, and the need for very high-powered instruments comes about. The lab I work at is known for being the largest and highest-powered magnet lab in the world. Magnets come into play with my research as they are a very big component in mass spectrometry, which is the main technique used to study proteins.

Why did you choose this field?

When I started my undergraduate career, I was drawn to the field of chemistry. I had any amazing high school chemistry teacher who made chemistry seem so easy. From an early age, I knew I wanted to pursue higher education even though I had very little knowledge of what that meant. I am a first-generation college student with a very supportive family. In undergrad, I learned very quickly that chemistry was not as “easy” of a subject as I was led to believe. But it was the only subject that truly kept my interest, and in no time, I immersed myself in my studies and joined a research group. My undergraduate research advisor exposed me to this new world of science where being creative was encourage and learning was no longer limited by textbooks and PowerPoint slides. That’s when I truly knew I wanted to further my studies into graduate school, where I am now able to focus my learning on research I’m truly passionate about.

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

Getting into my number one choice of graduate school is my biggest accomplishment to date. I didn’t always get the best grades in school, nor did I always think school was all that important. Grades don’t define anyone as a person, but continuous learning does. Graduate school isn’t about grades, it’s about losing yourself in the passion of learning during research.

Why do you love working in STEM?

Working in STEM allows me to be creative with my thinking skills but also challenges me to push myself and my knowledge daily. When I wake up in the morning I’m typically ready to just go to work, of course after the usual needed pep talk. My motivation to continue working in STEM is the true sense of accomplishment I feel whenever I am able to teach my fellow scientist something new.

Best advice for next generation?

Being a female in STEM can be very intimidating. But this can be true for any field, as women in general have not been part of the “work force” for very long in history. If you have a true passion for any area of STEM, you shouldn’t let the statistics turn you away. Being one of the only females in your workspace can be scary at times but can also be very rewarding. STEM doesn’t have a gender but does have a need for willing intellectuals to help contribute to the community of knowledge.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

Fun fact - in my spare time I truly enjoy going on walks/runs and exploring the city I live in. I also love going home to visit my family when I can and seeing my friends.

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