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Interview with Lisa Burnett – PhD student, Microbiology & Immunology, is this week’s Women in Science post.

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What is your field of science?

Short Answer: Microbiology and Immunology

Long Answer: I am studying the bacterial ribosome, or protein making apparatus in Escherichia coli. Our lab is interested in the purpose of certain ribosomal RNA modifications called pseudouridines and also how a particular ribosome associated protein (BipA) regulates the translation of stress response mRNAs.

What or who sparked your interest in science?

I have always been interested in science in general, particularly the general fields of Biology and Medicine.  I also love to “solve the puzzle” and was never satisfied with just knowing a fact; I always needed to know why.  I was first introduced to Microbiology in 10th grade when I was allowed to substitute that for a semester of general Biology.  I dove into it with everything I had (mainly because I was younger than everyone else in the class and felt I had something to prove) and came away from that class with a very strong love for the topic and a respect for the power of the microbe.

Can you describe your research?

Aside from it being about the coolest thing in the world (but who doesn’t think their research is cool?), I am trying to understand how cells work on a very basic level.  I want to learn how a single cell “decides” what proteins to make and how it organizes itself to make rapid and often life or death changes to those expression levels.  To do this, I manipulate the genetics of E. coli (a non-pathogenic variety).  I then look at how these mutations affect how the cells grows in different environments and which proteins are expressed in those different environments.

How important is mentorship in the development of young scientists?

I think it can be extremely important at all levels of education.  Young kids need to be shown that science isn’t just for the nerdy and unpopular and that it can be fun and cool.  High School students need reassurance that all the work is worth it in the end or they will give up before they ever get to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Undergraduate students are usually so desperate to be done with school that it takes a professor making a fairly strong impression on someone to get them to stick around for another 2-7 years.  As a graduate student I know how hard it can be on certain days and I have felt the sting of a failed experiment more than once.  The quote: “They call it RE-search for a reason” comes to mind.  Without a professor who can simultaneously push you to work harder and think deeper but also be there to catch you before you feel yourself plummeting off a cliff of disappointment, I don’t think many of us would make it.  I think that a good mentor, at any age, can be as valuable as the support you get from family and friends.  They are your “science parent” and your lab mates are your “science siblings.”  They really do become your second family.

Do you feel there are still stereotypes surrounding women in the sciences?

I feel that there are still stereotypes surrounding women in general.  There are many people that still hold on to the “a women’s place is…” belief system but, as the younger generations begin to make their way into faculty positions, my hope is that these beliefs will continue to disappear.

I think that this is not a problem that women face only in science careers, but in all areas.  It has been under 100 years since women were even given the right to vote in the United States, and while we as a nation and science as a community have made significant strides, there is still a ways to go.  My hope is that I can help to change peoples’ perspectives on scientists and women scientists in particular.

Have you had to overcome any barriers?

I have been fortunate that I have not received much in the way of resistance to my chosen career path, and what little I have received, I have always met with an “I’ll show you!”  attitude.  I did find myself worrying about things like whether or not my boyfriend (now husband) would be OK with his significant other making more money or if I should change my name when I got married. I was upfront with him about these things and he has always embraced my education and any decision I make.  I still worry about how to start a family and not to lose out on career opportunities.  Again, I am relying on the help of my husband and family to listen to me and when the time comes, provide any support that I may need.

In my career field, the disparity between the numbers of male and female students is nearly gone, even through the level of PhD completion, but when it comes to the number of women serving as faculty the disparity reappears.  I believe that the same issues that I deal with are a major reason why women tend to drop off the career path after completing their terminal degrees.  Often women feel like one side, family or career, must take a backseat to the other.  With our biological clocks ticking and our friends knee deep in offspring, we find ourselves hitting the books or working late nights in the lab wondering how we could continue this path and subject our children to it as well.  So, when forced to choose, many choose family.  There are no easy answers to this, and many other problems, that women, and scientists in general, face but I do believe that consciousness of these issues is improving and in time answers will appear.

Written by School of Graduate Studies

September 14, 2011 at 7:46 am

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  1. […] Interview with Lisa Burnett – PhD student, Microbiology … Interview with Lisa Burnett – PhD student, Microbiology & Immunology, is this week's Women in Science post. leave a comment ». What is your field of science? Short Answer: Microbiology and Immunology. Source: mygradspace.wordpress.com […]

  2. […] Interview with Lisa Burnett – PhD student, Microbiology & Immunology, is this week’s Women i… Introducing UND’s Women in Science Group Women in Science – Challenges in being a (overly) supportive mentor LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); LD_AddCustomAttr("theme_bg", "ffffff"); LD_AddCustomAttr("theme_border", "f3f3f3"); LD_AddCustomAttr("theme_text", "1c1c1c"); LD_AddCustomAttr("theme_link", "004276"); LD_AddCustomAttr("theme_url", "cc0000"); LD_AddCustomAttr("LangId", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Tag", "people"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Tag", "women-in-science"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Tag", "research"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Tag", "women-in-science"); LD_AddSlot("LD_ROS_300-WEB"); LD_GetBids(); Share this:TwitterFacebookMoreEmailStumbleUponDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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