Blog Posts

Two Parts Entwined

By Shanya Sam

STEM is rigorous. It forces me to use all parts of my brain, and I would eventually overload if it wasn’t for sports. I play basketball and soccer throughout the school year to de-stress. It’s an outlet for me that ensures my mental and physical health does not deteriorate. It provides me with a balanced mind and body because while STEM stimulates my mind, sports keep me active. The competitions and games have taught me to be more mindful by focusing on the immediate challenge rather than always stressing over the future and how to solve its problems.

The first ball I picked up was a basketball. I learned to play basketball in the third grade when my family and I moved to Tennessee. We were alone in a foreign place, so it was a way to connect with my older brother. Even today, it is something we bond over as we go to each other’s games and support one another. It slowly evolved into a necessity for me over the years.

Prior to moving, I was an antsy kid with an explosive temper. Basketball was my first outlet for all of the emotions coursing through me. It grounded me, helped me focus, and helped me learn discipline. These attributes I still carry throughout school life, and without them, I highly doubt I would be where I am today academically.

In my last year of junior high school, the girls basketball team was cut due to the lack of interested girls. I didn’t touch a basketball that entire year but instead signed up for every event and afterschool club to fill that void. I was buried under books, homework, and various commitments that I couldn’t juggle. There were days that I overbooked and had at least three events that I had to attend, some of which I did not even enjoy that much. I was lost and could not find my purpose, so I started from scratch and participated in everything to find it. In the process, I found STEM clubs that gave me reason to want to come to school again.

Freshman year, I rejoined the basketball team and learned to play soccer, and I grew to love it just as much as basketball. I play forward, so it’s me, a ball, and an open field. The large expanse of vibrant green turf constantly calls out to me, and there is no room to second guess or question once the ball is in front of me. The wind slaps against my face as I run wild, at full speed, until the ball reaches its final destination, at the back of the net. That feeling of exhilaration rushes through me, knowing points don’t come as easy in soccer as it does in basketball.

Although a fleeting victory, it reminds me that there are other aspects of life, so it would be unhealthy to solely stimulate just my mind or just my body. They are a unit that must work cohesively. As a perfectionist, I tend to throw myself into my commitments, and through experience I realized the danger in exclusively committing to one thing. It will have the ability to overpower me and make me hollow. I share myself between science and sports because STEM gives me purpose and long term goals to desire and achieve while basketball and soccer are sources of comfort from stress. To me, the mind is to the body as STEM is to sports, together they complete me.

-Shanya Sam, ARISE High School Student

My personal Journey into Science

By Appy Bhattacharya

When I was little, I was a very curious kid and I would ask everyone a whole lot of questions. Thankfully, the adults who were around me at home as well as at daycare never attempted to stifle my seemingly insatiable curiosity.

Rather, they appreciated this quality in me, and they enjoyed having discussions about the nature of the physical world with me. These inherent qualities made me naturally drawn toward the subject of scientific inquiry. However, the reason I got into research is a bit grimmer. My dad passed when I was 4-years-old due to food poisoning-related complications, at the hands of an incompetent medical doctor in India.

I was too young to even have a complete understanding of death itself. Eventually I was able to grasp the story behind his death and his poor health. However, it didn’t seem to settle with me. For years, I kept thinking how he didn’t have to die this way. It made me wonder what we could have done to save his life. Because of how his drastic passing affected me and my family, it also paved the course of my educational career at that time. I first wanted to be a doctor myself as I was starting to think about the lack of ethics in medicine in India. Eventually, as I went through my years of education and as I learned more about how research and medicine were connected, I had a major realization around the age of 16 or 17, just before it was time to finish high school and enter college. I decided that rather than being a professional responsible for applying technology at the bedside, I would rather be much more upstream of the system of the flow of knowledge.

 

I became interested in research as it allowed me the ability to add to scientific knowledge and to develop technology that will hopefully help improve the quality of lives of many people around the globe. That is what has motivated me to become the researcher  I am today and also to be where I want to go in the future. I want to wake up every day and go to work thinking that my work has meaning and one day, my work will add immense value to people’s lives. I want to wake up everyday thinking that I am part of a profession that will make it so that nobody loses a loved one to life conditions or diseases when science could easily save their lives and improve their quality of life significantly. This passion is what keeps me excited about science and the research profession.

 

What’s your why? Let’s talk about it on Twitter @appy_bee.

My Stem Story By Lianna Friedman

I began my science career at the age of eight when I discovered a circuit kit in the basement of my grandparent’s house. I took the circuit kit home and would play with it for hours trying to put together transistor radios to play music. Since then, I found myself taking special interest in my science classes such as chemistry and biology.  I have also been one to question my surroundings and then take the initiative to find the answers and explore those questions. My curious nature ultimately brought me into science research.

I began carrying out research when I signed up for my school’s research program freshman year of high school. I had an amazing teacher who taught me what science research was all about and how any curiosity can be developed into a project. Each year in the class I worked on a different project and continued to learn more and improve upon my research techniques.. My research in school has been incredibly varied with projects about the effect of swearing in politics to the effect of the pH of food on the survival rate and fitness of fruit flies through many generations.

I was looking for a lab to work in to expand my scientific knowledge, obtain experience working with a mentor, learn new lab techniques, and gain exposure to a field I have not yet explored. My passion for research brought me to the Montclare lab where I am researching hydrogels. Hydrogels are linked polymer networks that can absorb water. Hydrogels are typically used in applications such as agriculture, contact lenses, diapers, cosmetics, personal care, and drug delivery. I enrolled in the NYU GSTEM program that gave me the opportunity to take my scientific inquiry and passion to the Montclare lab. I took special interest in the NYU GSTEM program due to the fact that I would not only be getting this incredible lab experience but I would also be surrounded by other girls my age who share the same dedication to science as I do.

I was chosen as one of 40 applicants from young women scientists around the country to participate in the GSTEM program. The program allowed me to gain hands-on lab experience for five weeks in addition to field trips every Friday with the rest of the group. On the field trips, experienced different areas of STEM by visiting places such as Google Headquarters and the American Museum of Natural History. Additionally, women in STEM came to share their experiences in the field and gave advice to us budding scientists. The goal of the program was to allow young women with an interest in STEM to gain a more serious research experience while also creating an environment of girls who not only share the same passion for science but also support each other in their scientific endeavors. I think the program was highly successful in achieving this goal as I am walking away with a completed research project, an immense about of new knowledge I learned from my experience, and with 39  new friends as well.

At the start of the program, I was first given an index card with the name of the project I would be working on. It stated “protein engineered biomaterials” and I had no idea what to expect. I had never previously been exposed to this kind of lab experience and field of science. I was excited but nervous. I have learned now that the complex and confusing title I received on my index card meant that I would be producing a hydrogel by using proteins as the underlying material.

I can say confidently that my lab experience has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. It’s incredible to me how much I have learned a tremendous amount in just the few weeks that I have been here. My mentor, Yao Wang, has been extremely supportive and helpful throughout the research process, making sure that as I do all steps required in the research, that I understand why I’m doing it, and the mechanisms behind the steps. She has helped me to complete my project, which is tuning protein engineered hydrogels using metal ions, Having Professor Montclare check on our progress was also very helpful for me to organize and practice presenting the project. The project itself was fascinating as I got to see the things I’ve learned from school come together and take on real applications. Additionally, it was interesting to see that I can make something on such a small scale, produce something from proteins as the underlying material and that it can take on applications to better the world. I am delighted that I was able to be a small part of what the lab is working on.

In the fall, I will start senior year of high school and begin applying to colleges. In college I am looking to achieve a degree in Engineering and further my scientific knowledge. I am mostly interested in pursuing either materials science or biomedical engineering. For most of my life, I thought I was going to be on the pre-med track in college but this experience helped me to realize that I am more interested in pursuing engineering.

-Lianna Friedman

My Typical Day as a Scientist By Kamia Punia

My day begins with a quick look at my calendar, responding to emails, getting my 6-year-old daughter ready for her school, and family breakfast. My commute to the lab consists of a half hour Staten Island ferry ride to Manhattan that includes beautiful views of the Statue of Liberty and the East river. This also gives me time to reflect on my ongoing research work, and catch up with news..

My lab activity begins with planning the experimental studies of the day with my collaborators and mentees, and following up on the ongoing lab studies after putting on my favorite safety goggles and “fancy bioengineer” lab coat to kick-start the activities of the day.

My major research focus is creating protein engineered materials or “biomaterials” to serve as carrier for drugs to be delivered to treat diseases.  In one of the morning lab sessions, one of my team members and I were imaging the biomaterials using a microscope to explore its ability to bind drugs. We surprisingly observed a dramatic release of drug while illuminating the protein with white light. While we initially found this observation confusing, we later concluded that visible light can be used to trigger the release of our drug from the biomaterial. It has opened up a new avenue in our research biomaterials with the ability to respond to light.

 

I also like to read recent publications in a couple of leading bioengineering journals, preferably during morning hours to stimulate the thought process and bring in ideas for my own research. As science can be exhilarating and a number of times surprising, data analysis and rationale-based experimental approach is the key to understanding bioengineered proteins. This involves close collaboration and engaging in scientific discussion with my principal investigator, team members, and collaborators. I love the highly collaborative research environment; it gives me the opportunity to work and learn from my fellow researchers with diverse scientific backgrounds. I also enjoy teaching and working every day with my highly motivated team of high school, undergraduate and graduate students.  Being surrounded everyday with groundbreaking science and passion to develop new solutions is what drives me as a bioengineering researcher.

 

Along with the lab research work, I usually find some time to communicate and network with my colleagues that keep me informed on the exciting research being done by my peers, which can help me provide new perspective to my own research. In one particular instance, I was facing an analytical challenge for several weeks that had stymied my progress. Even after experimenting with many different technical approaches, I kept facing the same issue and each failing attempt led to an increased level of frustration. I discussed the problem with lab members during a coffee break, and one of the colleagues, who interestingly had faced a similar research obstacle, shared an alternate analytical approach that amazingly solved the challenge I was facing. While I found this incident to be serendipitous, this illustrates the power of scientific network and frequent communications with our peers in order to push science forward.

 

 

Before wrapping up for the day, I discuss with my team members to plan future experiments, reserve shared instruments and prepare for the experiments to be performed on the following day. I do a final check to make sure that all the instruments are properly shut down and various samples and chemicals are stored properly. Finally, I wind-down my exciting day in the lab by cleaning my work bench and head home to spend time with my daughter and husband.

 

Kamia Punia

I’d love to hear about a day in the life of YOU! Tweet me at @kamia_punia

Brick Wall of Science By Bonnie Lin

If you are coming here to look for answers on why to enter the world of science, then I am afraid this will disappoint you.

The truth is, as a rising junior pursuing a bachelor degree in biomolecular science, I don’t have a definite answer for you either.

As if being a first-generation college student is not hard enough, I am a woman in an engineering school. Now, I am not talking about the struggle of how women are being outnumbered by men in the field of STEM because I can see this slowly changing around me. I am talking about being a woman pursuing a STEM degree in my family. My sister, who is 10 years older than me and the first one to attend college, pursued a business degree like many of my other female cousins. Growing up, I have always looked up to my sister, and often followed her examples. Entering high school, I had my future all planned out. I decided to major in accounting when I applied to college. Why? The answer is quite simple: It is easy to find a job and make decent money; it was a common major for women to pursue; and I had always been pretty good at math (at least in high school). Having planned everything out, I shocked not only my parents but myself as well when I told them I wanted to pursue biomolecular science. When they asked me why, I couldn’t come up with an answer. Their doubt and uncertainty in my decision added on to my uncertainty of whether or not I chose the right path.

Two years into college, I still can not tell you for sure if science is the best field for me to pursue. But I can tell you for sure that I do not regret my decision. Attending so many lectures and talks from great professors whose research have astonishing results,  opened new doors to what science can lead to and can help achieve. Yes, there can be failed experiments, and it may be years and years of frustration before achieving a desired result or breakthrough. Maybe it is this unpredictability that draws me towards science. How great would one feel when the many failed experiments and long hours in the lab finally lead to something?

Maybe it is this feeling of pride that I am looking forward to. This surge of pride when suddenly all my years of challenges and struggle paved the way towards discoveries that people would appreciate. At the end of many talks, I kept thinking to myself, how amazing it would be to actually be the one standing on the stage to talk about my achievements and the chance to inspire others.

Although I have such aspirations, when I look around me to see what my peers have accomplished, I feel I still have a long way to go. I don’t have a 4.0 GPA; I am not the brightest of my class; and I have never been exposed to research (until the Summer Research Program that offered me an opportunity to gain insight in research through Professor Jin Montclare’s Lab) and I have absolutely no idea where to start. It was then that I came across Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” where one of his many lessons still lingered in my head. “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something”. I have a brick wall in front of me right now. My brick wall is the sense of uncertainty and doubt I have in myself. While it may appear challenging right now, I know that one day I will be able to break through and prove to myself how badly I have wanted it all along.

If there is only one thing I want you to get out from this blog, it is that sometimes it is okay to be unsure and have questions on what you are passionate about and what you really want to do. This just adds on to the excitement and appreciation when you finally find out what you want to do. My ultimate request to you: Don’t get intimidated by how hard or how impossible something might be, maybe years later you would be on the stage with an audience applauding at your achievements. Instead of pursuing a career that may seem the easy way out, chase after a career you imagine you would be happy in, and most importantly, the career you do not regret even if it intimidates you at this moment.

This blog is mostly my effort to remind myself that I still have my brick wall to break and answers to seek. Is science what I really badly want? Maybe you could ask me 10 years later and see whether I still have this brick wall in front of me.

_Bonnie Lin (@BonnieL17279208)

 

Works Cited:

Kabakou, Maksim. Science Concept: Painted Red Flask icon on Black Brick wall background

with Hand Drawn Science Icons” Issue ID 112170700.

https://www.123rf.com/photo_112170700_science-concept-painted-red-flask-icon-on-black-brick

-wall-background-with-hand-drawn-science-icons.html

Pausch, Randy, and Jeffrey Zaslow. The Last Lecture.Hachette Books, 2018