Last but certainly not least in this series of phenomenal women in STEM is Beth Papanek, a graduate of the Bredesen Center's Energy Science and Engineering PhD program (a third year at the time this blog was published). She grew up northwest of Chicago and attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for her Bachelor's in Chemistry and a Professional Science Master's in Bioenergy. After spending years in a very academically-minded chemistry department, Beth decided that she wanted to work in a more applied field. Some business classes and experience with Illinois Business Consulting led her to her current career path working with technology transfer and commercialization. Her graduate work dealt with the characterization of Clostridium beijerinckii for the production of butanol as a biofuel. Her research in the lab of Dr. Adam Guss with the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) focused on generating metabolomic data to use in conjunction with metabolic models to better understand the organism's switch from acid production to solvent production. Here, Beth summarizes her experiences at the interface of science and entrepreneurship. She describes how she has been able to navigate her way through these two male-dominated fields to find the support system and encouragement she needed to be successful, but emphasizes a need for women to take the reins and make the success on their own too.
As Women's History Month comes to a close, these next two featured women in STEM describe both the many opportunities, and challenges, that exist for graduate students before, during, and after graduate school. Eva Mutunga, a first-year Bredesen Center student, recalls an experience from her first week of classes last fall where she battled through feelings of uncertainty and gracefully managed an uncomfortable situation of potential bias and prejudice. She highlights how her ability to embrace change and seek out peer mentors has helped her stay resilient, confident, and motivated.
Born and raised in Kenya, Eva's fascination with engineering first began when she would watch the bellies of low-flying planes passing over her home in Nairobi. After moving to the states, Eva obtained her undergraduate degree at the University of the District of Columbia in mechanical engineering where she worked with Dr. Kate Klein at the National Institute of Standards and Technology on studying helium ion material interaction in both thin films and bulk substrates of various materials. She is now pursuing her doctoral degree in Energy Science and Engineering with a focus in materials science at the University of Tennessee. She is currently working on the morphological characterization of directed-assembly metal nanoparticles and substrate interface under the guidance of Dr. Jason Fowlkes at the Center for Nanophase Materials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Eva is adventurous and likes to try lots of new things but one of her favorite things to do is dance.
My next three guest bloggers for this year's #WomenInSTEM series join us from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Currently, all three of these inspirational women are graduate students in the Bredesen Center's interdisciplinary doctoral program in Energy Science and Engineering, but each started their journey on a different continent from one another, come from different scientific backgrounds, and have distinctly different plans for their futures in STEM as well. First up...
Kristine Cabugao joined the Bredesen Program last fall after she graduated with her undergraduate degree in Molecular Environmental Biology from the University of California, Berkeley in the spring. Originally from a village in the Philippines, Kristine has been drawn to the sciences from a young age. Here, she describes what first sparked that interest, and how even as a student at one of the top universities in the country, she has battled fears and doubts that I'm sure are probably familiar to many of us, men and women alike, in all fields of STEM. She shares with us how she overcame adversity and the various challenges she has faced. Kristine is currently working with Dr. Neal Stewart on root-specific promoter expression for switchgrass modification in relation to biofuel development. In the upcoming year, she hopes to transition to the Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to study plant stress response due to climate change in terrestrial ecosystems. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, running, and landscape photography.
Happy Women's History Month!
If you remember from last year, I like to use this month as an opportunity to highlight some really amazing women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields from all around the world. I asked each of them to tell me about their experiences as a "woman in STEM" and, not surprisingly, each of them has a unique and different story.
Our first guest blogger, and personal friend of mine, hails from Northwest Ohio where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry at the University of Toledo. She is now working with First Solar, Inc as a Chemist in the Materials Analysis Lab. First Solar manufactures solar panels for distribution around the globe, and Suzy Oancea is responsible for analyzing the products currently in production, using an X-ray Diffractometer, in order to find new, innovative techniques for various processes involved in the production of each panel. She has also been an active member of the American Chemical Society since she first joined the undergraduate student chapter during her time at Toledo. And when she's not at the lab bench, you'll most likely find Suzy outdoors with her husband and two dogs, working on their yard, improving their home in the country, or going for a swim. She is an avid fisher-woman and based on the photos she has of all the different fish she has caught, I'd assume she's pretty darn good at it!
Here, Suzy tells us about the challenges she has encountered over the years and in her day-to-day life as a chemist in industry, from deciding which field to pursue in undergrad to how to troubleshoot an experiment. She also explains how a career in STEM almost always requires a high level of determination, desire, and the will to keep asking questions.
To wrap up Women's History Month and our women-in-science guest blogging series, I've invited two stellar students from the Bredesen Center PhD program in Energy Science and Engineering to share each of their unique experiences.
First up, Melissa Allen has a Master's degree in Environmental Engineering, but started out with an undergrad degree in Music Education before making the switch to science! After working for a bit, she decided to come back to graduate school, and her current work includes global climate modeling and impacts of climate change on the electrical grid.
Then, we'll hear from Maria Fernanda Campa; originally from Mexico, she studied Nanomedicine during her undergrad, and after working at Oak Ridge National Lab for a year, she decided grad school was the next step for her too! She is currently working on developing a project that will combine the fields of bioenergy and policy for a truly interdisciplinary research experience.
After hearing from a post-doc in academia, an engineer in industry, and two graduate students, I hope this first women-in-science panel has offered a set of diverse experiences and advice. Let me know who you'd like to hear from next year!
Our next guest blogger for Women's History Month comes to us with two Bachelor of Science degrees in Bioengineering and Exercise Science. She's currently working as a Comfort Engineer in product development for Ford Motor Company in Michigan. After excelling in her undergraduate program both in the classroom and in professional organizations (American Chemical Society, Women in STEM Excelling), Amber Hall is now blazing the way for all those girls interested in making a name in industry and engineering. In her spare time, she is constantly searching for adventure and knowledge, and also keeps a blog of her own. Check it out here!
"If you're a 'minority in a STEM field', you've probably heard the aforementioned or something similar in your career. Naturally, you get defensive. While warranted, it's not necessarily the best choice...
Happy Pi Day everyone! It's also Albert Einstein's birthday today, so happy 135th Al!
Speaking of old guys in science, a friend of mine has a bone to pick with a few of them! Martine is currently a post-doc overseas and grew up there as well! I met her when she was completing some field work here in the states and I have looked up to her ever since. As a strong, independent woman in science, who rarely filters what's on her mind, I'm so thankful she agreed to share some of her experiences with us. Please feel free to leave questions for her in the comments section below!
Happy International Women's Day!
Did anyone see this article making its way around social media lately? Eileen Pollack, a professor of creative writing at the University of Michigan with a degree in Physics from Yale University (I know, art and science together!), explored some possible reasons for why there are so few women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
While Eileen points out many clear concerns and possible explanations for the stark, and extremely problematic, gender inequality in the sciences, I feel like there's one more thing to point out.
Welcome to Think Like a Postdoc. If you're a fan of science as much as I am, and/or are curious about getting a degree in a STEM field, or pursuing an interdisciplinary graduate degree (all from the perspective of a graduate student), then you're in the right place. Think Like a Postdoc also includes posts about my current lab and field research, including analytical chemistry, Arctic biogeochemistry, and energy & environmental policy. Comments and questions are always welcomed. And please tell me what you want to hear about next!
Questions to Ask Before Choosing Grad Program
First Semester of Grad School
Field Work in Alaska
Science Conference Dos and Don'ts
Women in STEM Series
Things I've Learned in Grad School Series
Blogs I Follow
Mass Spectrometry Blog
The Grad Student Way
Anthony's Science Blog
The Thesis Whisperer
Fossils and Shit
Science Communication Breakdown
Science Communication Media
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