How would you describe your college experience? College for me was an opportunity for golden redemption. No one knew what was on the other side, and the only thing beyond graduation was what I saw in myself and projected to others. Parts of it were terrifying; I didn’t have the best image of myself as a scientist and I wasn’t the most socially inclined human. Oftentimes nervousness would sink in and prevent me from speaking up even if I knew the best response, how was I ever going to make it into an interview for a job? Did I even know exactly what I wanted to be? I sought books, advice from friends, professional counsel (practically everything but a fortune teller!) trying to figure out what it was I was supposed to be beyond graduation. I didn’t even really want to graduate, university was my home for 3 years and thought the real world was much more harsh, everyone for themselves and always focused on the money. University offered open-mindedness, growth, inclusiveness, opportunity, encouragement, support, a library and sometimes free food and friends.
When did you know that you wanted to major in a STEM discipline?
I like nature, art, music and the stars. Science is the ultimate foundation for all of these. So, STEM was definitely a must, science in particular was my thing. It was one of the only things that could really be trusted without requiring blind faith. All of the answers can be sought using logic. Something about the size of myself compared with the size of the universe and the size of the electron made my problems feel so tiny and yet my existence so massive and magnificent as a human being on this tiny planet. Science was never just about the experiments for me. It was more about the real world and making sense of it all in its complexity and its simplicity. The biggest challenge for me was deciding what I wanted STEM to do for me.
What is the most rewarding thing that you do in your job as a STEM professional?
Someone asked me “if you could have a super power to help save humanity, what would it be?” I replied, “provide clean drinking water to everyone.” The most rewarding thing for me is knowing that I kind of have that super power now, protecting and serving the people that I love. I work for the state making sure that drinking water facilities are properly testing, reporting and complying with EPA standards for lead & copper. Basically, I’m a state watchdog making sure nothing like what happened in Flint, MI happens in TN. This is incredibly important to me as 1/2 family lives and works within and around Flint, MI, the other half live here in TN. I’m lucky to love where I live and have such a valuable role to everyone in it.
What would you tell a middle or high school girl about careers in STEM?
That it’s not supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to challenge your thinking and test your limits. If you don’t grow beyond what you are now, how will you ever become what you can be? Knowledge is permanent; no one can ever take that away from you. Science will teach you the significance of being a woman is much greater than most people can wrap their minds around. Genetically speaking, humans are a matriarchy. YOU have the genes, and jeans are irrelevant (beauty fades, dumb can be overcome.) Don’t worry about the social aspect of school so much. Once you’ve made it into the real world you’ll have so many different friends anyways. Learn to socialize, you gotta be friendly person, but you don’t have to give away yourself or what you are doing. Also, you don’t have to know what you want to be, it’s ok to change your mind and explore your options. Try the super power question on yourself.
What should middle and high school girls be doing to prepare themselves for college
and a STEM career?
Learn to take notes & study in a fun way. Use colored pencils, write & rewrite notes in your own lingo, doodle, make songs, puzzles & funny phrases. Don’t let exams intimidate you, exams are designed for teachers to determine what information they presented actually sticks. It isn’t about judging you personally at all. It is simply a tool to determine if the information was properly translated to you and if the information was presented in a way which you could understand. Also, any blip or blemish on your university career is not the end of your career. Everyone faces trials, the only thing anyone really wants to know about your misstep is “how did you recover?” It is actually good for you to experience a couple blemishes on your record in order to prove that you have the drive to take you beyond troubles.
What career advice would you give to girls if you only have two minutes?
Try to determine what you are supposed to understand about the topic (think: big concepts) before you start, the lessons will suddenly become more interesting and the study less tedious.
Before you do anything think about what the benefit should before having done it. “What am I getting out of this?”, “What of this will benefit me in my dream job?”
There will be “failures,” but those are just lessons too. Even if you have a bad experience, everyone wants to see how you go beyond the trials.
Handle life with gratitude. Yes, it is hard. If it was easy everyone would be doing it and there’d be little pride in having done it. You are lucky to have so much opportunity.
Face your fears. One step at a time is best. You’ll see that fear is only a speed bump; it’s good sometimes to slow things down and be more deliberate in your actions.
There is no path to happiness, happiness IS the path. -Buddha
21st MTSU EYH Conference 2017
Registration is now open!
The conference has been rescheduled for February 10, 2018.
Rachel Marlin represents MTSU at the SENCER Summer Institute.
Temi Thomas and Rachel Marlin will present EYH research at the ACS Fall 2017 National Meeting.