Nov 8, 2021
What Sparked My Interest In Science?
Nov 8, 2021
As someone who has recently completed her Ph.D. in Biology, I spent a fair bit of time looking back at what led me to this accomplishment. When people ask me how I got interested in science, I tell them one of two things: a) I come from the mountains of Virginia where I was surrounded by nature, or b) I found it hard to understand the motives of people when younger, so I turned to studying nature instead. Turns out, after a recent discussion I had with my mother, neither of those are entirely correct. I got interested in science because our family got a dog when I was in the second grade. His name was Phoebus. He was a black labrador and would whimper when held. He was afraid of water. Phoebus got me interested in dogs. (I distinctly remember getting in trouble for printing out many dog breed photos from a CD-ROM encyclopedia--using color ink!). This then led me to want to study wolves, and my penchant for science was born.
There are people who fostered my interest in science. The first were my parents. I remember getting a science kit from them that had a functioning light microscope with slides, magnifying glass, and little plastic vials with which I would collect insects or plants. Then, I got to catch salamanders at a field ecology summer camp, and this experience was the catalyst that motivated me towards a science-based career. I think my decision to go to a smaller university for my undergraduate degree rather than a large flagship state school helped my interest in the natural world stand out to my professors. Through that small university I got to watch fish hatch from eggs under a microscope, dodge venomous snakes and colorful spiders to study small mammals in Central America, and make enough of an impression on several professors that they recommended I attend graduate school, not once, but twice.
I want to controvert the idea that only smart people, geniuses, can be scientists. Being smart helps, but it isn’t a necessary requirement. A scientist is someone who is curious, and employs a standardized method to seek the answer or explanations, at least, to their curiosities. Being a scientist also takes incredible perseverance, especially if you are from an underrepresented group (such as women and minorities). I am known for being stubborn, and as such, I never strayed from my goal of being a scientist even when facing adversity. The first challenges that come to mind were academic setbacks: less than desirable letter grades in pre-calculus and physics and never winning a local science-fair. As I got older, the adversity switched from being academic to social. Time and again, teachers were surprised I did well in science classes or on the flip-side never encouraged my passion because I didn’t embody the stereotypical scientist. Coworkers or peers thought I really wasn’t interested in science, but only got the job or accepted into graduate school to hit some “quota.” I did not care what they thought. I wanted to work with wolves...and I’ve just finished my dissertation on rodents (which in some areas are prey for wolves!)
We want to promote STEM/STEAM education in our communities. Not only can it inspire kids who never thought they could “be a scientist” to pursue a career in science, it can also make us a more informed and innovative population so that we can be prepared for what lies ahead. Our society needs advancement and creativity in science now more than ever, so it only makes perfect sense that we encourage kids to explore and expand their interests in these fields.