Upon conducting this informational interview, I had the great pleasure in speaking with one of our nation’s top lab researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Regional Biocontainment Laboratory: Dr. Amy L. Hartman. Her official position at the university is a Research Manager and assistant professor in the Department of Infectious Disease and Microbiology in the Public Health graduate school. The specific research that Dr. Hartman focuses on is finding vaccines for some of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases: Rift Valley Fever, Ebola, Zika, and various forms of Encephalitis. Her lab works to understand the pathogenesis of many of these infectious diseases, primarily to create vaccines for them and prevent disaster occurring if they were to spread—this includes protection for U.S. military personnel overseas and their possible exposure, along with the misuse of these viruses as a weapon of bioterrorism against the United States. Working in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Defense and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Hartman’s research is extremely pertinent in today’s world, and I got a firsthand glimpse into how she got where she is today.
Completing her undergraduate career at Washington and Jefferson University, Dr. Hartman double majored in Biology and Spanish. In addition to this, she mentions she also “took most the prerequisite classes needed to apply for medical school because I knew I’d need those for graduate school,” referencing chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and calculus. When asked about the process from how she arrived at her major, the answer was simple: “I knew I wanted to major in Biology. I also liked Spanish, so I just kept taking classes until I had enough for a second major.” From here, Dr. Hartman went on to receive her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh’s College of Medicine in Molecular Virology. But did she make the correct choice of what to major in? Dr. Hartman emphatically expressed that “yeah, definitely the right major. The specific major you choose isn’t the be-all, end-all. You can major in English or History and still go to medical school, provided you take all the prerequisite courses.”
One might think that the most important skill for someone in her field to have would be scientific intelligence and being able to work tirelessly in a lab, but according to Dr. Hartman, in her line of work this is not always the case. “[The most important skill would be] being a good writer. Most of my job consists of writing grants and manuscripts. Writing is key.” Because the Regional Biocontainment Lab has highly expensive materials and equipment, grants are extremely important to receive in order to keep the research prospering. Being a good writer enables Dr. Hartman to articulate why exactly she needs these grants for her lab.
As seen throughout the interview, Dr. Hartman really shone as an intelligent and passionate scientific professional, who cares deeply about her career. Her biggest advice to someone who is interested in her field? “Make sure to get experience working in a laboratory during your undergraduate studies. That will tell you if you like doing science or not.” With her love of science, there was no question in what she had wanted to major and pursue the rest of her life. As for her favorite and not-so-favorite parts, she says that “I really like the challenge that comes with doing something new each day. The hard part is dealing with the pressure to bring in grant funding.”
I found Dr. Hartman extremely fascinating, from what she does on a day-to-day basis to how her collegiate experience led to her current position. I chose to interview Dr. Hartman because I find the work she does to be absolutely intriguing and extremely important. I wanted to learn more about her process of arriving at her major and what she did in college to find her path of study. Also, I have been increasingly more interested in biology and microbiology as my first year at college has progressed. After interviewing Dr. Hartman and speaking with her at length about her major and her career, I definitely have been influenced about my own major and career exploration. Although I know that I am Pre-Medicine, majoring in something other than a science, but still being a medical school candidate, is very appealing to me. This ultimately opens up more doors of what I could major in and how I will eventually choose one.
I did learn some things that were unexpected from this interview. This mainly pertains to her statement about the need for writing as a good skill in such a scientific field. This was some great advice for me, still as an undergraduate, and how to hone in my skills and be the best candidate when applying for jobs and graduate school. But the interview also reinforced the idea that before going onto graduate programs or jobs, a person in a scientific major should garner some lab experience, which is what I am currently trying to do. Lab experience will tell me whether a scientific field is really a profession I enjoy. Concerning these majors—Biology, Microbiology, and Virology—I would be very interested in getting some more information on the specific courses these majors require, along with the research, internships, and other opportunities that come along with them to get professional experience. Overall, there was one piece of advice that Dr. Hartman gave me: “major in something you are interested in.” This is what I see the purpose of the University Exploration Program as and am excited to continue to see what this major may be for me.
The exploration tools, activities, and resources I utilized this semester that were the most helpful include the college overview videos along with the lectures that we had the opportunity to attend based on each school here at Ohio State. The college overview videos were resourceful because they allowed me to view a major and school before deciding whether to attend the lecture or not. Additionally, the lectures that were in-person were extremely helpful. It allowed to be to get a better understanding of the school and majors, along with have any of my questions answered.
7 December 2016