I Am a Scientist
No matter what field of science you’re in, your hard work toward advancing discovery inspires us. That’s why we’ve created a new space for scientists to tell their stories.
Each month, we’ll add new, engaging interviews with inspiring, real scientists that reveal their personal journeys, areas of research, and passion for the challenging work that can help us understand and improve our world.

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Name: Chinmayee Shah
Location: Cambridge, MA

If I weren’t a scientist I would be a: dancer

Why did you choose to pursue science? I work in cancer immuno-therapy research and the reason I chose it is not because someone died in my family because of cancer, but that I believe in science, and I believe that there is nothing that can’t be attained. I always follow one rule in life: "Everything has a solution if you just believe that there is one."

Favorite memory in the lab: Working late hours trying to make one assay work and the happiness of hitting the right thing that leads to a paper.

If you could change anything about society’s perception of science/scientists what would it be? That scientists are not to be stereotyped to be nerds! They can be cheerful, party-going, fun people who happen to love science but are outgoing at the same time.

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Name: Rubia Martin
Location: Raleigh, NC

How would you explain your work? I am studying to become a toxicologist. I am concerned how environmental toxins (poisons) can influence sporadic neurological diseases, such as ALS, by changing one's biological body compositions. Therefore, I expose neurons to environmental toxins, and then I evaluate specific responses, such as increase or decrease of certain proteins that are important to biological body functions.

If I weren’t a scientist I would be an: aesthetician

Why did you choose to pursue science? Since I have been a little girl, I have always enjoyed learning about life! I am always questioning why things happens the way they happen. As I matured I knew I had to become a scientist as I never cease the desire to learn new things!

Favorite memory in the lab: The wonderful people I work with!

If you could change anything about society’s perception of science/scientists what would it be? That we are actually good people. We are not nerds, weird, shy, antisocial or whatever you may call us. Actually, most of us are easygoing and easy to communicate with. We have to be, as we aim to widely distribute knowledge. Also, we get pretty excited and happy because we know we have the potential to make a difference in the future by helping our community with new discoveries!

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Name: Chelsae Dumbauld
Location: Chapel Hill, NC

How would you explain your work? I process archived blood and tumor cancer research samples. Then I look at markers on the cells using fluorescent antibodies that mark specific cell types. The differences in a sample's cell subsets can predict or show how they respond to treatment.

If I weren’t a scientist I would be a: theater performer. I've always had a passion for acting and being on stage.

Why did you choose to pursue science? My interest in science started in my 8th grade life sciences class. I felt enlightened every time I learned something new about how "life" really worked. Whether it is plants or animals, I am amazed by how complex living things can be.

Favorite memory in the lab: When I was the first person in my lab to use our brand new flow cytometer.

If you could change anything about society’s perception of science/scientists what would it be? If I could change anything, I wish that society's perception of science was not based on religious or political beliefs. Science itself is not based in religion or politics, which is what I find so pure about it.

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Name: Paige Mandelare

How would you explain your work? I look for new potential drugs, like penicillin, from Oregonian fungi and soil. The drug leads could be anything from antibiotics to antiviral.

If I weren’t a scientist I would be a: fiction writer/English major. I love writing fictional stories, but I love reading and analyzing literature, both the classics and new novels.

Why did you choose to pursue science? I chose to pursue science because I have always been inquisitive. I just enjoyed the process of developing my hypothesis and seeing it through, even as a child. I couldn't see myself doing anything else, besides exploring and learning in science. Most people would answer with the standard answer "to help people", but my reason is purely because I just enjoy learning and executing experiments.

Who is a science icon you look up to? I didn't have a science icon I looked up to. I was thankful my mom and dad were in STEM careers and they always supported my interests in science. My dad was a science inspiration as I got to visit his lab during his Ph.D. and I got exposure from a young age of what I could do as a scientist.

Favorite memory in the lab: Collection trips with my labs to the Keys in Florida. I am so lucky my field includes field collection and the bonding moments I had with my PI and lab mates on a cramped ship with a ship crew of characters is hands down my favorite memory. I got to snorkel and collect soil samples while processing them on a ship during a storm.

If you could change anything about society’s perception of science/scientists what would it be? We are everyday people. The scientists on TV such as the Big Bang Theory show that scientists are socially inept and uber geeks. That simply isn't true! Most of us are extremely social, don't often drag about our fields, and pursue hobbies such as marathons or triathlons. I would say as a whole, scientists are quirky.

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Name: Morgan Prewitt Carlton

How would you explain your work? I currently test LNG components, set up cargos for analysis, and test water.

If I weren’t a scientist I would be a: horticulturist. I love growing things in my garden and trying out new varieties of my favorite vegetables and herbs.

Why did you choose to pursue science? I chose to pursue science because having the freedom to choose STEM is incredibly important, especially as a millennial woman. I cannot even remember a time before I wanted to be a scientist.

Who is a science icon you look up to? Sir Ronald Ross, a military man in India who studied malaria. I wanted to base my graduate studies off of his work.

Favorite memory in the lab: I love being on plant support. The data that we turn out is the data the entire plant runs on.

If you could change anything about society’s perception of science/scientists what would it be? That we aren’t all super nerds with no social skills!

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Name: Blake Gowen

How would you explain your work? My work deals with figuring out what is wrong with individuals who have certain skin cancers, and seeing what we can do to try to prevent it or treat it as best as possible. I explain my work to my friends as "invisible work” since we can't see anything we're working with (with the naked eye). It's like magic, but making a real difference.

If I weren’t a scientist I would be a: trombone performer.

Why did you choose to pursue science?I have always been fascinated by the way the world works around us, and how we as humans seek to understand it. Learning how the body reacts to chemicals, how skin differentiates differently with different protein expression levels, how low and high pressure systems (and warm water) create powerful storms, and many, many more things are responsible for my passion for science.

Who is a science icon you look up to? Senior scientist in the Khavari Lab, Zurab Siprashvili.

Favorite memory in the lab: My favorite memory would have to be validating a certain isoform of a gene my lab was studying. I hadn't yet gained much experience, but I was able to validate a certain sequence that no one had been able to validate previously. Seems small, but it was very encouraging.

If you could change anything about society’s perception of science/scientists what would it be? I would encourage the general population to trust scientists MORE than politicians, and trust that science very rarely lies and is as unbiased as anything else out there. We need to listen to what the universe is telling us.

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Name: Robert Martin

How would you explain your work? I use a computer to predict and analyze the magnetic properties of metal containing molecules.

If I weren’t a scientist I would be a: chef!

Why did you choose to pursue science? I was introduced to Chemistry at age eleven and have been interested in the field ever since.

Who is a science icon you look up to? Linus Pauling.

Favorite memory in the lab: My first scientific paper accepted for publication.

If you could change anything about society’s perception of science/scientists what would it be? I would disallow fear-mongering in public media.

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Name: Ryan Rakoczy

How would you explain your work? ? I study tiny organs called carotid bodies. They sense oxygen changes in your blood and then relay these changes to your brain. Your brain, in response, increases/decreases breathing to correct the oxygen levels in your blood. Kind of like the O2-sensor in your car telling your engine it needs to increase air intake.

If I weren’t a scientist I would be a: struggling musician.

Why did you choose to pursue science? My son Lennon was born extremely prematurely, necessitating supplemental oxygen (O2) from birth through six months of age. Simultaneous to his O2 therapy, we were studying neuron development in newborn rats subjected to the same O2 therapy. That parallel between my research and my son's condition solidified my passion for studying respiratory physiology, better known as neuroscience. I'm now currently pursuing my PhD, and my son is happy and healthy.

Who is a science icon you look up to? Those in my field, especially my PI. However Neil deGrasse Tyson would be my more widely known favorite scientist. Although he studies a completely different discipline of science, the way he speaks and is able to convey complex information inspires me to be a better public speaker.

Favorite memory in the lab: I love being in the lab, I have too many favorite memories to list!

If you could change anything about society’s perception of science/scientists what would it be? That we treat the animals we use like kings and queens, and often offer them up for adoption after the completion of a study (free of charge)!

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Name: Gloria Marino

How would you explain your work? I am going to school to study cancer biology, specifically metastasis. Essentially, I want to learn how cancer spreads to other parts of the body and how to prevent or slow that process.

If I weren’t a scientist I would be a: professional book reader.

Why did you choose to pursue science? I always felt like I wanted a career where I could help others. When I discovered science and how fascinating it was, I knew it was my calling to do medical research.

Who is a science icon you look up to? Marie Curie

Favorite memory in the lab: The first time I got a western blot to work!

If you could change anything about society’s perception of science/scientists what would it be? I wish society would realize that we are not here to deceive them/trick them. People fear what they don't understand, so they fear our work. I wish they would realize that we are people just like them and want to help.

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Name: Sarah Nicholas

How would you explain your work? I'm a vision researcher. I study the human cornea, the clear, front part of the eye. The focus of my research is corneal scarring. Like any other part of the body that is wounded, the cornea heals but sometimes can form a scar upon healing, which can impair vision. I study different molecules that are involved in the process of corneal wound healing in the hopes of discovering effective therapies to reverse scarring and restoring vision.

If I weren’t a scientist I would be a: zookeeper! I volunteered for one year at the OKC Zoo in the reptile and amphibian department.

Why did you choose to pursue science? I remember the moment that I fell in love with science as a kid. I was watching Bill Nye on TV—he was talking about cells and I found it fascinating. I wanted to know more about the microscopic interworkings of the human body.

Who is a science icon you look up to? Marie Curie, but I owe my scientific successes to my boss and mentor, Dimitris Karamichos.

Favorite memory in the lab: My lab is involved with an organization called OCNS (Oklahoma Center for Neuroscience) at our university. This year we held an event at the Science Museum of Oklahoma called, "Neuroscientist for a Day". We had different stations set up in one area of the museum, some of which included a human, rat, and mouse brain, slides on a microscope of mouse brain sections, a whole human eye, mouse eyes, rat eyes, and human corneas (the station that I was in charge of), brain games, electrodes, and more. The event ran for 2 days, and hundreds of people attended. It was amazing seeing how excited and fascinated the kids were, it reminded me of myself watching Bill Nye. By far, this was the most memorable and rewarding experience.

If you could change anything about society’s perception of science/scientists what would it be? I would change the preconceived stereotypes of what female scientists are supposed to look like. I get tired of hearing, "you don't look like a scientist".

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Name: Shelley Ordorica

How would you explain your work? I work in the genetics laboratory, where we test blood samples from people with a family history or symptoms of genetic disease, looking for a specific mutation that would cause that disease. (No, it's not like CSI. No, I have never cloned myself.)

If I weren’t a scientist I would be a: totally different person. I can’t imagine being anything else.

Why did you choose to pursue science? My entire life I found science to be fun. I enjoy solving puzzles and having hard facts to support a conclusion. Specifically I fell in love with genetics after my first class in university, the detail and precision that makes up each one of us!

Who is a science icon you look up to? Francis Collins. He led one of the biggest scientific projects of the 20th century, and my field would be completely different without the Human Genome Project.

Favorite memory in the lab: The first time I found a nonsense mutation when sequencing the dystrophin gene for DMD.

If you could change anything about society’s perception of science/scientists what would it be? Science and religion can work together.

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Name: Jessica Zhang

How would you explain your work? Bacteria reproduce by internally making an identical copy of itself and splitting up its parts into two new bacteria. The two new bacteria are identical in size and composition to the original. I study how a bacteria successfully divides into two new bacteria, equal in size, by studying how the machinery needed for this division is positioned correctly in the original bacteria.

If I weren’t a scientist I would be a: restaurant reviewer!

Why did you choose to pursue science? I chose to pursue science because I'm interested in figuring out how life, and therefore humanity, works. Science is funny in the sense that it intersects heavily with philosophy. The questions that make you ponder your existence can be discussed in the context of new discoveries in any science discipline. I want to contribute to these discoveries that ultimately make us think more about how humanity started.

Who is a science icon you look up to? James Maxwell.

Favorite memory in the lab: My favorite memory of my work is interacting with my labmates—while the scientific discoveries and successful results are great, it would be impossible without the help of my teammates. Additionally, these are the same people that support you when nothing works, which occurs more often than successes.

If you could change anything about society’s perception of science/scientists what would it be? I want to show society that science underlies everything about the world, even if it isn't readily apparent. Science gives us fundamental principles on how the world works, and there are a few common, simple, and logical themes that dictate just about everything.

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