When we first started Letters to a Pre-Scientist during the 2010-2011 school year, we had just over 100 committed scientists volunteering as pen pals. The scientists represented about 10 US states and were ready to take on the challenges of our inaugural year. Word quickly spread among fellow scientists, which has allowed for our program to grow substantially each year. Now in our fourth school year, we have over 600 scientists who have signed up to be a pen pal! Our list has grown so tremendously that we have had to place many of our scientists on a waiting list. This year, we represent 35 US states, as well as several international locations, including Great Britain, Mexico, Canada and Australia.
In our last few posts, we’ve glimpsed into the classrooms we are partnering with this year. For our December edition, we thought it would be interesting to look into the lives of a few of our scientists, and check out the diverse fields in which they work. If you want to learn more about our scientist, check out the bios page. We hope our scientists fascinate you as much as they do us. With their dedication, we hope to continue inspiring pre-scientists for years to come!
I’m a PhD student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver researching ways forests might be able to adapt to climate change. I signed up for LPS because of pen pals I had as a child. I grew up in a poor, rural area and the rest of the world seemed like a big, foreign place. Having pen pals made the world seem smaller and leaving my home more exciting than frightening. I’d like my pen pals to feel like the world is theirs to explore and to learn to think of scientists as ordinary people. My pen pals remind me that curiosity and excitement make for a happier scientist than jargon and credentials, and they inspire me with their humor and resilience.
Currently I am a postdoctoral fellow at The Buck Institute for Research On Aging where I am studying diet-genetic interactions on skeletal muscle in Drosophila Melanogaster. I’ve come back home to the Bay Area after completing a PhD in Medical Physiology in the Midwest and spending two and a half years abroad doing my first postdoc in a more clinical setting in Copenhagen, Denmark. As a pen pal I hope to convey that scientists are just like everyone else, not be intimidated by, but inspired by. In the end I hope the kids realize that we are (relatively) normal people living relatively normal lives. Communicating my science to the level of the students is really rewarding and challenging, and has even led to some interesting self-reflections on the ‘big picture’ of the basic physiology that we work on. I’ve learned from my pen pal that inspiring kids is easier than one might think and with just a little effort you can change someone’s stereotype. More importantly, I’ve learned that my pen pal wants to run marathons just like me and be a scientist just like me. Who knew!!
I work in the field of oceanography, which uses physics, chemistry and biology to understand the oceans – which are very important because they cover 70% of the Earth! I study how the ocean regulates global climate by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even though I grew up three hundred miles from the ocean in a small town in western Pennsylvania, I love learning about and spending time on the ocean. Before I moved to the University of Washington in Seattle to study oceanography, I spent a year researching cod fishing in the Iceland, Scotland, Denmark, Norway and Canada and two years living, sailing and teaching marine science on traditionally-rigged schooners (yes, kind of like pirate ships) in Long Island Sound. One of my favorite things about being a scientist is that I get to travel all over the world! I love being a pen pal because it is a lot of fun to share my experiences and my passion for science. I also know that to solve important problems such as climate change, we are going to need a new generation of bright young scientists and scientifically-informed citizens, and I am excited to connect with and encourage a few of these pre-scientists.