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Why Chemistry?

Quaovi Sodji is a 4th year Graduate student in Chemistry at Georgia Tech.
Roderico Acevedo is a 4th year Ph.D Candidate in Chemistry at Penn State University.
Monique Bastidas is a 4th year Graduate Researcher in Chemistry at Penn State University.

Q: Why did you choose to study and/or have a career in STEM?


Bastidas: My decision to study Biochemistry/Chemistry is because I enjoy math and science, but mainly because I was interested in the material (atoms) that makes up life and everything around us - atoms. In addition, I want to contribute to society by doing biomedical research.

Sodji: I have always been curious as a child and growing up I have always wanted to become an engineer to understand how things work and what is the mechanism behind the proper functioning of things. As such, a career in STEM seems to be the way to satisfy that curiosity, furthermore, I was strongly encouraged by my parents.

Acevedo: Growing up, I had always been curious about science (Bill Nye the Science Guy), so when the time came to choose elective classes in middle school and high school, I always chose a science-based one. However, it was the mentoring of two people that solidified my desire to be a scientist. The first person was my high school Chemistry teacher, Dr. Taylor, who had the desire to help students (even me!) learn the concepts of chemistry AND be able to apply them. Dr. Taylor had retired from both industry and academia, but continued to inspire students by teaching high school science. He encouraged me to "not be a ding-dong" and attend an undergraduate school. The second person was my undergraduate research mentor, Dr. Ann Callahan, a research geneticist at the USDA. There I gained a passion for research-based science and with her labs' patience and mentorship I learned that I could not only do meaningful research but was capable of understanding the research literature. She encouraged me to present my summer research at a local symposium, where I had the opportunity to interact with professors and explain my research. These events gave me the confidence that I needed to pursue my childhood curiosity and apply to graduate school to become a research professor in my own right.

Q: Have you encountered any obstacles on your path to pursuing your studies in a STEM field, and if so, how have you generally handled adversity?

Bastidas: The major obstacle was not knowing about higher education and the careers I can pursue with a science degree. I overcame this in two ways, the first was taking the opportunity to learn about higher education. I was given the chance to learn about higher education and apply to undergraduate schools because I was approached by an organization that informed underrepresented high school students, such as myself of the opportunities of higher education. This opportunity was out of my control, but I accepted it even though I was filled with fear. The second was attaining as much information about academic opportunities, which meant that I had to seek information.

Sodji: The difficulties that I have encountered in my study of chemistry were related to the fact that I was a transfer student from a community college with smaller classes to a four-year university where much of the teaching was done by teaching assistant. To address those difficulties I had to spend more time on the materials from lecture, meet on regular basis with the TA to ask questions and form study groups.

Acevedo: The largest obstacle that I’ve encountered in my path to becoming a research professor is summed up by not knowing how to achieve the goals that I wanted. Coming from a small rural high school, I did not interact with my guidance counselor in a meaningful manner. I did not know about graduate school, let alone how to get into an undergraduate school. My parents did not graduate high school, which limited there recommendations and expertise to secular jobs. In fact, without Dr. Taylor I would have happily lived out my life with the false knowledge that becoming a scientist required something that I inherently did not possess. If anything, I did not handle my problems; the few choices I’ve made have serendipitously produced nurturing mentors which have illuminated the path to connect my dreams with reality.

Q: What are your objectives as they relate to your STEM studies and your career?

Bastidas: After completing my undergraduate degree with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, I wanted to pursue higher education because I had a passion for research. Currently, I am a fourth year graduate student in Chemistry and I plan to graduate in a total of five years. Following completion of my Ph.D. in Chemistry, I will pursue at least one, possibly two, post-doctoral fellowships either in academic, in national laboratory, or in industry. My career goal is to work as a Lead Research Scientist at a leading biotechnology company, where I hope to continue doing research, as well as manage a team of researchers.

Sodji: My goals are to not only be able use scientific reasoning very efficiently to answer any phenomenon but also to acquire a set of skills that will enable me to have a fulfilling and enjoyable career.

Acevedo: My ultimate objective is to become a research professor at a university, where I can dedicate my service time to inspiring both undergraduate and high school students to a fruitful career in STEM by giving them firsthand lab experience and supporting their professional growth through participation in STEM-based conferences.

Q: What do you think the US can do to encourage more youth, especially those coming from underrepresented communities, to go into STEM fields?

Bastidas: First, the US can financially invest in primary and secondary education, instead of cutting back, which will provide more or better resources. The quality of the education, especially in poor communities, should be improved significantly, so that all students have the same opportunity to engage in STEM related activities and be immersed in STEM courses.
Many students in elementary math and science courses feel discouraged about STEM fields simply because they believe the course is difficult or the lack of creative opportunities. Perhaps the curriculum of the education systems needs to incorporate more rigorous math and science earlier so that students are familiar with the effort needed to understand those fields.

Sodji: Profiling the cases of the people who are successful in the field of STEM will be a great way to start. Young people must realize that the field of STEM give them a greater chance of success in their adulthood than any other industry although the lifestyle may not be as lavish as that portray on popular media.

Acevedo: Personally, I think that it's never to earlier or too late to reach out to students about the careers in STEM. Programs that aim to bring trained, motivated STEM researchers into junior-high and high schools, and technical programs would help students to become aware of these fields. By dedicating more time, e.g. more than a one hour field trip, to demonstrating the practical applications of STEM and HOW to plan and achieve the goals needed to become an educated STEM member, a void will persist between the demographics of the general population and those found in STEM.

To read more ISTG Online Publication articles, please click here.


2011 The Innovative Science & Technology Group (ISTGTM)