I recently had the opportunity to meet up with three people that help make up a portion of The Ohio State University. I met up with an upperclassman, a teaching assistant for general chemistry, and my chemistry professor to discuss experiences and resources that are available to undergraduate students at OSU. The goal of these meetings was to become informed of different perspectives, opportunities, and general advice for being a student.
The first step in this assignment was determining who to talk to. I did not and still do not know very many people on campus, so I was slightly nervous to reach out to people I had never met. I looked at the list of STEM Exploration and Engagement third-year scholars to find an upperclassman who was studying biology and ideally was on a pre-professional track. I emailed Anna, and she agreed to meet up for coffee and talk about her experiences at the university. When I met up with Anna to conduct our interview, she mentioned that she knew a teaching assistant for general chemistry. I reached out to Natalie to ask her questions because my TA was not very receptive to questions and I did not feel like I had a strong connection with her. Natalie was very good at answering my questions and I had a lot in common with her. Choosing to talk to these two women were both decisions based strongly on common interests that were not necessarily based inside the classroom. Choosing a professor had more of a foundation in an interest in their research. I started the process by using Scopus to look for research articles by professors at The Ohio State University, and found an abundance of interesting articles. The more I looked, the more I found that there was so much I was interested in because I haven’t found a specific subject of biology that I am incredibly passionate about yet. Eventually I decided to take a step back and focus on a preceding question I knew I should ask myself first: academia or research? I knew that my chemistry professor Dr. Loza had worked in industry for a long time before she started teaching, so I looked up some of the articles that she had been involved with and met to talk with her during office hours after class.
First I met with Anna, who is a third year STEM Exploration and Engagement scholar. She is a biology major and on a pre-health track. Anna is laid-back in a way that lets you know that it’s okay to not have a life plan set in stone at the age of eighteen. She told me about how she struggled with her chemistry class freshman year and took the time to establish a good circle of friends before jumping into a sorority. She has had an experience that is very similar to the one that I want to have, so she could give me a lot of tips about how to stay sane during the transitions. Anna explained to me that a pre-health student was someone who knew they wanted to be on a pre-professional health field track but had yet to figure out which one. After hearing my uncertainty about what I wanted to do in the clinical health field, she encouraged me to meet with the advisor to see about switching me into pre-health and spoke highly of the program.
Anna introduced me to Natalie, who is a laboratory teaching assistant for general chemistry. Natalie gave me a lot of tips on getting involved in research and finding other opportunities to work on campus. She got her job as a TA by establishing a relationship with a professor who thought she would be perfect for the job and could put in a good recommendation for her. She emphasized this experience because the importance of the relationship was what helped her establish a small network on campus. She said that getting involved in research and jobs on campus tends to be more about who you know than what you can do, so every student should be adamant about emailing a lot of professors until you find someone who is willing to meet with you and possibly offer you a position. This would help you establish a relationship and start to build a network on campus.
In most cases, to meet with a professor to talk about possibly joining their research team, it is proper etiquette to find two or three articles that they’ve written to become familiar with their work. Before meeting with Dr. Loza, I looked up and read a few of her articles. I had to use Google Scholar to find these articles, because Dr. Loza wrote these papers while she was working at British Petroleum, so they were not connected The Ohio State University. I think that it is always good practice to read scholarly articles, because every scientist must learn how to read and understand them to be successful in a career, but in this case, it did not seem necessary to read them. It didn’t seem necessary because I was more interested in talking about what led Dr. Loza to where she is today, rather than her research.
Dr. Loza is an incredible person to sit down and talk to about a career in science, especially being a female. When she was in college she was studying to be a librarian because women were not encouraged to even try to get into the field of science. While she was in school she developed friendly relationships with some of the professors in the science department and when she told them she was going to be a librarian, they laughed at her and told her to get a degree in chemistry. She did, and pursued a career in industrial research at British Petroleum. Even after earning her degree she said that being a woman in science is incredibly difficult, and that her male co-workers would constantly play practical jokes on her, simply because she was a woman. However, she always just kept moving forward. Eventually she started teaching at The Ohio State University because her husband relocated for his job. She didn’t choose to enter the academia world, but is very passionate about her job now. She very strongly believes that a person should just take life as it comes, and to not worry if it doesn’t exactly fit into your plan.
While I am still not sure what exactly I want to do with my life, meeting with these three women helped me get a better idea of how to approach my career and how to become involved. I think it is very interesting that I only spoke with women in science, and I wonder how my experience would be different if I had contacted any men. However, I think it is important as a woman in science to have a network with other women in science, and I want to continue to facilitate the relationships with the three women that I met. This assignment has encouraged me to start reaching out to more professors to start to facilitate a network.