How would you describe your college experience?
My college experience started out like any other with the usual hopes of parties, football games, and of course, academics. Getting pregnant midway thru my second year changed everything. I had to transfer schools, to be closer to my parents for support, and start all over as a non-traditional student. Being a single mother in college took great patience and sacrifice. Instead of wondering where the next party was, I had to focus on getting the most of every moment I was in the classroom and on campus. College no longer was all about me and my goals; it was about my daughter's future as well.
When did you know that you wanted to major in a STEM discipline?
Since I can remember I have always excelled in science and math classrooms. I was the typical science nerd, entering every science fair possible and competing for the top grades in all my math classes. Science came so easy for me that it was only fitting I make a career out of it! Without being exposed to any other options, my generation grew up believing if you are good at science and want to help people … be a doctor. Even with the sudden life change of being a mother, I knew no different and thought I would make it work! Getting experience in undergraduate research was a great way to stand out on my medical school application. I quickly found a passion for bench research and discovered the numerous other ways a career in science, without being a doctor, could improve people's lives.
What is the most rewarding thing that you do in your job as a STEM professional?
I am a research chemist working at the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery. I think the name speaks for itself! I have a unique opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself. While discovering the next great neuroscience drug takes a lot of time and patience, the rewards years from now could be priceless. Ever heard the saying: learn something new every day? Well that is the definition of my job. It is like a continuous stream of learning in the most real setting. I am very lucky to be surrounded by STEM professionals who encourage daily.
What would you tell a middle or high school girl about careers in STEM?
I had the misfortune of not being exposed to the many career options available to anyone interested in STEM. I would suggest uncovering the vast possibilities available. Careers in STEM can be truly unique, fascinating, and fun.
What should middle and high school girls be doing to prepare themselves for college and a STEM career?
STEM careers are not for the faint of heart. They are for motivated, hardworking individuals who love learning. In order to succeed in any STEM discipline, one must lean NOW how to study, which is harder than you might think and is different from person to person. Learning how to study properly will set you up well for the hard classes you will surely face in college. Take as many STEM classes that are available to you. This may mean not having an 'easy' senior year, but like I said, STEM careers are not for the faint of heart!
What career advice would you give to girls if you only have two minutes?
Figure out what you are most passionate about and do it for a living! Hard work truly does pay off so never give up on your dreams no matter how big or small. I am living proof, no matter what life throws your way, you can succeed!