Science isUS

Meet the people of science.

“I work as a master electrician with my business partner, Skip Brown. I didn’t set out to be an electrician. You can say that I sort of fell into it just before my freshman year of high school.
I’m originally from Texas and our school district partnered with a program that encouraged students to think about trade jobs. In eighth-grade, technical recruiters came into our classrooms and talked about future job opportunities in technology, mechanics, HVAC systems, electrical and equipment, construction, and repair careers, etc.
I had no intention of participating in the program when I first learned about it but life circumstances changed that. My folks moved into another school district and I wanted to stay in the same school as my friends. When the recruiter found out that I wanted to attend high school with my same classmates, he let me know that I could attend any school district that has the program regardless of where I lived. And that’s how I (luckily) fell into the electrical field –- to avoid going to a new school district without my eight-grade friends.
I didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity as a high schooler but that quickly changed. Right from the get-go, we were learning about electrical theory and all the basics of electricity, and how voltages worked. It got interesting fast.” 

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People of Science: Chloë McPherson, Congressional Science Fellow (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), Office of U.S. Representative Chrissy Houlahan

“Growing up I always liked math and science – and music. In my junior year of high school, I had a teacher that encouraged me to pursue acoustical engineering. Designing concert halls required a background in all of the areas I loved and excelled at. However, I quickly realized the world didn’t need that many more concert halls!

I changed my focus to design engineering which still kept that creative element I enjoyed. Things evolved from there. I was finishing my master’s when I landed the opportunity to intern at the Obama White House. I couldn’t turn that down. I also interned at the Department of Energy. I found that I loved working on science policy and thought ‘let me explore this.’

Thinking of myself as a scientist has been an evolution. I worked at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) writing about science policy happening on Capitol Hill and working with grad students who were also interested in pursuing policy – and that helped me to solidify my science policy career path.

Today, I’m a Congressional Science Fellow in the office of U.S. Rep Chrissy Houlahan (PA). A key part of my job is advising my Member of Congress on legislation and positions in my portfolio area which includes science and technology, energy and environment, STEM education and space. Today that means I’m helping my boss prep for an event our office is doing with NASA where K-12 kids from her district will get the opportunity to chat with astronauts in the International Space Station. Since Rep. Houlahan is an engineer, STEM education is a key priority.”

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People of Science: Lauren Haygood, Science Policy / Citizen Science, AGU Voices for Science, and Community Lead at AGU Thriving Earth Exchange
“I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to be a scientist. During high school, I had an interest in sports medicine but after taking a class on the subject I realized I hated it. During about the same time, I got really into gardening. After learning more about soil science, plants, high temperature and low temperature geochemistry, I made the connection to pursue geosciences as a STEM career.

I recently earned my master’s degree from the University of Tulsa (TU) in geosciences with an emphasis on biogeochemistry. And I begin a PhD program at Oklahoma State University (OSU) this fall. Besides my teaching assistant role at the TU, I am the student representative of SWCS Science & Policy Committee, and a community leader at AGU’s Thriving Earth Exchange, working on a hydrology project on the Kiamichi River, a 172-mile-long river in southeastern Oklahoma. We’re working on a remediation program to improve the river’s water quality, recover mussel populations and help protect the river for future generations.

With an AGU Voices for Science grant, I founded a Citizen Science initiative that teaches communities about water quality and how to test for metals and physiochemical parameters. Water quality can sometimes get confusing for the general audience and part of the initiative is to break down those barriers. For example, I’ve found that many people associate ‘water quality’ to mean scientists are testing for bacteria. And although testing for bacteria may be one facet of the data, there are also many other layers to consider including dissolved oxygen, PH levels, salinity, metals, conductivity, turbidity, pesticides…even microplastics and more.”

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People of Science: Claire Bowen, Data Scientist, Urban Institute (remote worker in New Mexico)

“I’m a data scientist at a public policy research institution. I help distill complex data in a manner that makes sense to people. Data isn’t always clean or perfect. Data scientists take that data and help translate it into narratives. How will this data make impact? How can we use it to make better policy choices?

I specialize in data privacy and confidentiality. One of the projects I’m working on is helping the IRS to find a better way to release taxpayer data. The President recently approved a $1.9 trillion budget. If we had access to taxpayer data, we could figure out which groups are more vulnerable to better shape public policies. But, we want expand access to this data to other researchers without violating the confidentiality of anyone who contributed to the data.

We also recently led the rollout of a COVID-19 job loss tool – an interactive tool that tells us where low-income job loss due to COVID-19 is happening most across the country. What areas were being hit the hardest? What jobs were more vulnerable? We were able to roll this out in about a month and quicky work with local and state governments to help them address the loss. 

When I was young, I was very curious and math and science explained how things worked to me. Despite growing up in a rural area in Idaho where not many girls pursued careers in science, my family was encouraging of it. I was raised by a single mother and my grandmother was definitely the matriarch of the house. Growing up around strong women helped me to pursue my love of science and ultimately end up where I am today.

I know it can be a cliché, but try to pursue what you love. And do your best to silence other voices and just focus on your goal. And find a good support system! This is especially important in a male dominated field like STEM. While I was the only woman that graduated in my cohort, I had a great support network and that made all the difference.”
We’re highlighting #STEM professionals across America for the #ScienceIsUS #PeopleofScience series. Share your STEM story US and be featured in our series. Tag yourself in the comments or nominate someone who would make a great addition to the campaign. Read some of the inspiring STEM pathway stories @scienceisus.
People of Science: Hadas Kotek, Linguist, Apple (CA)
“When tech companies build virtual assistants, they use machine learning models, which are essentially large-scale statistical tools. But to truly work, the assistant also needs to understand the context of the conversation and more broadly the social and cultural background of its users. More and more, companies are recognizing this fact, and that’s where linguists come in: we bring in the human aspect that ultimately enriches the user experience.

I’m a linguist at Apple. My job combines data science and project management. Specifically, I help Siri understand its users. I’ve always been interested in the intersection between science and language, and eventually received a PhD in linguistics from MIT. I also spent several years teaching linguistics at the college level.

My academic background did a lot to train me for the job I have now. For example, it taught me how to design human-centered experiments, how to identify patterns in diverse and sometimes complex data, and how to work in multi-national collaborations. I work with data scientists, engineers, and annotators, and that kind of collaboration is something I really enjoy. Seeing a product go from inception to widespread use and having that kind of impact is another rewarding aspect of my job.

I’m active in a mentoring group that supports women and other minorities in linguistics. I would say to any young aspiring STEM professional: there are resources and networks out there that can help you. I’ve learned that finding those connections is crucial. While asking for help can be hard at times, it’s reassuring to know there are both resources and more importantly people out there who want to help.”
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