Friday, 27 March 2009

Friday of Ada Lovelace Week - it's been fun!

Welcome back! It's Ada Lovelace Friday, and the fifth and final post in this 5-day series. I honestly cannot imagine blogging 5 days a week every week. Not unless this was a real paying job. Which it's not. So A) kudos to anyone who has the dedication to post daily, and B) I hope you enjoy today's installment, an interview with a good friend of mine named Marina T-----. She recieved her Honours BSc in Biology and MSc (specializing in plant biology) from York University, and is currently working on her PhD at the University of Toronto in the Department of Molecular Genetics, studying exocrine pancreatic dysfunction in Shwachman-Diamond syndrome (!!).

Vellum: Hi! So What do you do now?
Marina: Well, like I mentioned above, PhD. I study in the laboratory of Dr. Johanna Rommens at the SickKids Research Institute in the MaRS Toronto Medical Discovery Tower and am a student at U of T.

V: What does that involve?
M: My PhD involves, of course, laboratory research as well as course work and seminars. Our group works on Shwachman-Diamond syndrome (SDS), a rare autosomal recessive disorder that results in exocrine pancreatic dysfunction (digestive impairment and malnutrition) and bone marrow failure (frequent infections and increased risk of leukemia).

My lab work primarily involves investigating interactions between the SBDS protein (the protein affected in SDS) and other proteins as well as investigating human cells depleted for SBDS in the hopes of gaining insight into the function of this protein. The idea is that if we can determine what this protein does, then we may be able to better manage the disorder in patients.

V: Why did you choose to go into the sciences? Was there a moment in your past where you thought, "hey, this is what I want to do?"
M: This is a tough question. I'm not sure when I first chose to go into sciences but there was definitely a confirmation of this desire in OAC bio class. I remember we were learning about mitochondria and cellular respiration, the cell's process of generating energy from glucose (food), and I turned to my friend Steph sitting beside me and said: All this stuff is going on, all the time, in every cell of your body. That became a phrase of ours "All this stuff, all the time" for the rest of the term whenever faced with another crazy method that nature dreamed up.

V: What were the ratios of women/men like in your classes? Did you ever feel singled out?
M: No, never. In fact, I'm pretty sure (although I haven't seen numbers) that there are more women in the biological sciences than men. That is not the case when it comes to the professors though, there the men are certainly in majority.

V: Is there any overt/covert sexism in your field?
M: Well this is a pretty sensitive question. I can't say that I've ever experienced or been the victim of sexism, leastways that I've ever noticed. But you do notice that there are more male PIs than females, and that results in more males being recognized by awards, etc. But this is changing so I'm not too worried about it.
What does worry me is when women tell me: Don't use words like "explore" in a grant. Explore is a weak word, women love to use words like "explore" and less committed verbs. Instead use "investigate." That gets me, cause hey, I like the word "explore" and quite frankly science is all about "exploration." and why should I care if I 'sound like a woman.' it's like the ol' "you throw like a girl!" Well guess what Sherlock? I AM a girl!!!

Also, a very prominent concern for women in science is the old douzey of how do you have a career and make babies too? Many Universities, when hiring, ask candidates about their marital status and whether they plan on having children which is a little disturbing. And there are always rumours that academia is nervous about hiring women, cause they tend to get pregnant as soon as they get a 'real' job. I have heard many women say things like "The best time to have a baby is when you're writing up your PhD."

V: Do you have any advice you'd like to share with any young women who are thinking of going into the sciences?
M: Yes absolutely! The first thing you want to do is get yourself into a lab. take lab courses as soon as you can and volunteer in a lab if you can. Learning about science, and studying science is VERY different from doing research so its important to figure out if you like both before committing to an entire degree. And also, consider Ecology. Man I wish I did! You get to travel to all these beautiful places to do your research! haha, wish I had done that sometimes, and now with global warming and the environment being such hot topics, ecology is definitely where it's at.

V: Thank you so much for your time!

Peace all -- and Happy Ada Lovelace Week ^__^


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