What is your scientific background?
I obtained my B.S. in Biology from Clemson University, followed by my Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology from Emory University, and postdoctoral work at the University of Louisville. Most of my scientific training focused on skeletal muscle growth and repair using mouse models and primary muscle stem cells.
Why did you choose to become a scientist?
Although I grew up in a family of scientists, I didn’t realize what it meant to perform bench research until I was in it full-time. I was driven by both an intellectual curiosity to discover something new and the belief that my science could benefit society.
Which topic are you working on at the moment?
Following postdoctoral training, I became involved with the non-profit organization Future of Research (FoR), a volunteer experience that exposed me to the field of science policy. Although I didn’t know much about this area initially, policy appealed to me due to its potential to enable broader level changes. Specifically, at FoR, where I am now on the Board of Directors, I have been studying the compliance of institutions with the Fair Labor Standards Act as related to postdoctoral salaries, and the overall landscape of postdoctoral salaries in the U.S. which has been a great experience.
Why did you choose this topic and how do you think you’ll make a difference?
My projects at FoR have resulted in a general interest to advocate for increased transparency about the scientific enterprise, in particular as related to the postdoctoral position. This is largely because very little data exist on postdocs in general, and this population is in great need of reform. I hope that this type of work can shed light onto the realities of academia in general, give an overall sense of how scientists are (or should be) valued, and provide ways to empower them to speak up for particular issues in the system.
In ten years, what do you hope to have accomplished in terms of your work?
I would like to continue working in science policy to better understand particular issues related to the biomedical workforce, and how we can leverage that into a real, tangible change in the scientific enterprise. I would hope that ten years from now, transparency related to academia at the institutional level becomes the norm, and that junior scientists will be able to find any information they need to decide whether a particular institution is a suitable fit for their career needs. As an example, career tracking of PhDs and postdocs is a critical aspect of the enterprise to be studied. This type of research might provide insights into the systemic changes that need to be made to ensure that we are adequately training the biomedical workforce for particular careers. In some aspects, we are still far away from discovering all the potential avenues by which to empower junior scientists to speak up for changes they want to see in the system, but at least part of this could be achieved in our lifetime.
Do you come from an academic family?
Yes, my parents are both faculty members at Clemson University, studying cardiovascular tissue engineering and regeneration. My grandparents founded the Institute of Cell Biology & Pathology in Bucharest, Romania, focused on alterations in the heart and blood vessels leading to atherosclerosis, diabetes and other disorders.
If you had the option to give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?
Although I plan everything, my life traditionally hasn’t gone according to plan. But most often, my failed plans resulted in great opportunities that took my life in unexpected directions. My best advice would be to go with the flow and let the opportunities that come my way dictate the future because it will probably be better than I could have imagined.
In your opinion, which changes, if any, are needed in the scientific system to be more attractive to women in science and possible future scientists?
I think we need to create a safe environment where women in science don’t feel afraid to speak up for what they need and what they believe in. We also need men to encourage women to do that, whether at a conference, within our own institutions, or in other settings. In addition, we need to tell young girls that they are just as entitled to science careers as men are, and we must become role models for them and show them what a successful female scientist looks like.
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