NextGenVoices Results

NextGen VOICES: Results

We asked young scientists to answer this question:
Describe a specific experience and how it changed your science, training, or career goals.

In the 6 July 2012 issue, we ran excerpts from 13 of the many interesting responses we received. Below, you will find the full versions of those 13 essays (in the order they were printed) as well as the best (in alphabetical order) of the other submissions we received.

Would you like to participate in the fourth NextGen VOICES survey? To make your voice heard, go to

(Can't get enough NextGen? See the results of previous surveys at and

Essays in print

Air France flight 3210 Paris-Noumea. I am taking off for my first field season and, like any neophyte Ph.D. student, I have brought with me an ambitious pile of articles, in order to optimize my 24 hours on the plane. Although my thesis is focused on mathematical models of trophic relationships on islands, the scope of my literature selection is broader. "Stable isotopes reveal evidence of predation in seabirds on the Shiant Islands, Scotland" (Stapp, 2002)—the title frightens me a bit; chemistry is an uncommon component in the methodological mixture of fieldwork that will start in 2 days!  In the end, intrigued, I decide to add stable isotope sampling at the last minute. Little could I have anticipated how this article would enrich my future career. Ten years later, stable isotopes are part of my daily routine and compose the core of my research. What would I be doing, who would I be, if I had set that pile of articles aside and nestled down into my seat, like the other 250 passengers, to watch the in-flight movie? But does not the beauty of research emerge from the liberty of our thoughts and actions? To fly from one idea and alight on another? Publications are midwives, bringing knowledge into the world and delivering new ideas, which, in turn, give birth to new projects. This particular publication changed the course of my history, my research path…Thank you Mr. Stapp!
Stephane Caut
Department of Ethology and Biodiversity Conservation, Estacion Biologica Donana (CSIC), E-41092 Sevilla, Spain.
E-mail: stephanecaut{at}

In my scientific career, Mozart is the one who inspiring me constantly. When I was in teenager, I was absorbed by Mozart, because his music possesses is so pure and concise. When I began to study biology in university, I felt the same purity and conciseness: Our body functions as elegantly as Mozart's music does! Then the concepts of "balance" always sink into my mind: the balance between body's internal environments against surroundings, the balance controlled by negative and positive feedback in neural circuits, and the balance between mouse's searching or waiting behavior choice when facing inevitably aversive stress (for example, tail suspension). I've always believed that balancing does not mean unchanging. On the contrary, the only constant is that we are changing all the time. From birth to death, we are undergoing extraordinary innumerable changes, both in morphology and function, in behavioral paradigms and molecular patterns. However, life and death are merely two extremes of a certain course. To be, or not to be, that is our body's choice. Thus I am always wondering what is the power determining cell fate, which factor contributes most to the development of neurons into various types, why the body sets exact circuits in balancing diversified feedback loops, and how multiple mediators act in concert in producing an orchestrated "symphony" that enables body's responses to various challenges. Biology is amazingly beautiful! I wish to devote my whole life into it to enjoy the beauty that science offers!
Wen-Qiang Chen
Department of Physiology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
E-mail: chenwq{at}

During the first 2 years of my undergraduate study toward a degree in biochemistry, I did not have much practical experience in research. My aim was to join medical school. Much of the practical experience I had was replicating what was in the textbooks and my knowledge did not extend beyond that. However, in my third year I went to Japan on an exchange program and in order to get enough credits I joined the immunology laboratory for a research project. Everything in that lab—the techniques, the equipment, the experiments—was so new to me. The project I was given involved expression of some recombinant protein in E. coli. This particular protein is quite difficult to express and after many weeks of trying I just could not approach my supervisor and tell him the experiment had failed AGAIN!!!  I felt so overwhelmed that I went to the darkroom and started crying. A colleague of mine found me and after I had explained the situation to her, she explained to me that every single scientist has had to go through many such moments. At that point, it hit me: For all the things I read in textbooks, someone at some point went through exactly what I was going through. I had never reconciled those two facts so solidly together. Until then, my sole purpose had to be to get good grades…then and there in that darkroom, I decided to be a biomedical researcher when I returned to my country.
Anne Wanjiru Ndungu
Kemri-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Immunology Laboratory, Kilifi, 80108, Kenya.
E-mail: awanjiru{at}

My career was defined by a short article written for high school biology teachers in the late 1970s.  I was a sophomore in high school in San Juan, Puerto Rico at that time. Biology was that one class that felt true to me in that awkward and social-pressured time called high school, and I quickly became very interested in the class and in nature itself. During off times, like at lunch or immediately after the last bell, I would wander into the biology lab and spend time with the biology teacher and other like-minded students.  There was always something cool to watch, like the fish tank with the seahorse that one of my classmates brought in, or the assembly of a cat skeleton in progress. One afternoon, I picked up a short periodical among my teacher's pile of papers and read an article describing the cloning of the insulin gene by scientists at Genentech in California. The article described how researchers cloned and produced large amounts of recombinant insulin in E. coli without this being a detriment to the cells. The bacteria had become a mini protein factory that could in theory eliminate the need for pig stomachs as a source of insulin for diabetics. After reading the article, I thought to myself, "This is what I want to do." There was no question. I have yet to waver from this path. My Ph.D. thesis examined the production of an iron chelator in E. coli and most of the methodology revolved around molecular methods and bacterial genetics. Both of my postdocs were also heavy in molecular biology. Today, as a molecular mycologist, I still get a thrill of heterologous expression of genes in yeasts or E. coli. There is a special sense of satisfaction in manipulating gene expression and in biochemical analysis of proteins; sequence and chemical data don't lie!  I love what I do and feel privileged in being able to question and examine the intricacies of nature. Thinking back, it was as if time stood still when I read the article. And my sense of what could be accomplished by research became a wide open doorway.
Janet F. Staab
Division of Infectious Diseases, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.
E-mail: jstaab1{at}

As an undergraduate I applied to an internship at Mote Marine Laboratory, hoping to work on a marine mammal project, but I was assigned to a dolphin prey species survey instead. Initially I was bummed. I wouldn't get to work with dolphins, but would instead be fishing all summer. On my first day on the boat I was regaled with all the very important safety procedures and got an extensive lesson on purse seining, where you use a large mesh net to sample the water column. We motored out to our first site, and set the net. I was poised; ready to measure, ID, and count the fish as they came up. What I didn't realize was how thrilling it would be. I distinctly remember grabbing my first pinfish. I was pricked and prodded by its spines as I tried to get the slippery, flapping fish to lay flat for a good measurement. It was at that moment when I realized, aha!, this is what I want to do. I marveled at the diversity of sizes, shapes, colors, and even sounds of these animals. From that point on I knew I wanted to study fish; how they work and interact with their environment. I made my decision that summer to pursue a master's degree in fish physiology, and now as I prepare to graduate, I am so thankful I had the opportunity to spend a summer fishing because it was that experience that sent me down my career path.
Genine K. Lipkey
Department of Biological Sciences, Towson University, Towson, MD 21252, USA.
E-mail: glipke1{at}

I still remember how beautiful it looked on the crinkled pages of my ninth grade biology textbook. Behind the bursting red nucleus was forked DNA unraveled from its usual, beautiful helical shape. As an mRNA was produced, it threaded through the open pores of the nucleus and into a ribosome. Even after school ended, these artistic illustrations remained animated in my mind. I wondered what color the nucleus really was and how these operations could occur so quickly, intricately, and flawlessly in our millions of cells to produce an organism so complex and diverse—I sometimes could barely even walk without tripping. At this point, I knew that I wanted to pursue a biologically relevant field as a career. Before the ninth grade, I had gone through the typical craze of dinosaurs, weather, and plants. I always liked science, but I had never felt this consuming passion or curiosity before. Also on those same pages was the story of Rosalind Franklin. I felt sad, but at the same time, inspired by this woman to pursue science purely for the sake of knowledge. Looking back, I realize that broad exposure is essential to encourage women to pursue science, and I hope to integrate science education into my career. We need to empower educators with resources and tools to better transcribe scientific knowledge into our next generation of scientists at an early age, so that they may later translate the knowledge they obtain into a more successful and prosperous society.
Luvena Ong
Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
E-mail: luvena{at}

When I was 14 years old, I liked to spend my life watching cartoons and playing my favorite games, but one afternoon a very interesting event happened to me: That afternoon I saw a very peculiar worm that was different from all the rest. This worm was fluorescent and it attracted my attention. I enjoyed that moment so much that without realizing it this event changed my entire life. Since that day, everything about nature was interesting to me and I got involved in science. Now that I am in the biological sciences I know that the bioluminescent worm I have never seen again is one of the forces that makes me to fight to become a researcher.
Rigoberto Medina Andrés
Departamento de Bioquímica y Biología Molecular, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, Cuernavaca, Morelos, 62209, México.
E-mail: medina-ar{at}

During my formative years, I trained as an associate at a medical research institute in-house at a leading hospital. Generally when a patient's tissue samples were accessed from the hospital facilities, it was always anonymous and alpha-numerically coded. On one occasion, the family of a deceased patient with a unique medical case history refused to grant access to the mortal tissue remains for research use. A personal assurance from the director finally helped convince the nearest kin. As a follow up, they were requested to attend one of our research meetings where we discuss results from those very samples. The wife and the teenage son sat in one corner of the seminar room, gazing nervously at the scientific populace. They looked through all the histopathological and immunofluorescence images, perhaps understanding nothing, but trying to find which slide they perhaps had a bloodline tied to. As I escorted them to the lift lobby after the meeting, the lady held my hand in reassurance and gratitude, with glistening eyes over pouring with faith. She spoke nothing but conveyed unfathomable assurance for whatever we do which might save another life similar to hers. Since then, I have prepared thousands of cell and tissue slides. And every single time I think of her gaze, her unspoken words, when I finally place the cover slip over the sections. I wouldn't say the feeling makes my images look amazingly good, but it gives me that extra willpower and hope to regard my efforts as precious.
Kingshuk Poddar
National University of Singapore Graduate School for Integrative Science and Engineering, Centre for Life Sciences, 117456, Singapore and Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR), Proteos, 138673, Singapore.
E-mail: kingshukpoddar{at}

I have had multiple teachers who influenced me. My third grade teacher told me I had a knack for science. In high school I had the same teacher for general chemistry, AP chemistry, and AP physics. I remember hearing her say to another teacher that if she'd known she could have done research, she might have tried it. I am a postdoc now. I've thought about changing careers many times, but I always end up finding someone to look up to. I keep on refining the goals and career path that I want to achieve. I look to people within the scientific community and outside of science for role models who inspire me to dream big about how the power of science can be harnessed for the greater good of all of humanity. If I have to name one experience that changed my career goals, it was a visit to a rural high school outside of Winston Salem, NC. I was there for DNA Day. The teacher told us that he had to teach evolution at the end of the semester because parents were bound to pull students out of class. If he taught it earlier, he would lose the student for the entire semester. I was shocked and saddened to hear this. As long as people who live so close to where I practice science feel this way, I won't be content to only pursue research—science outreach will always be some part of my career.
Virginia K. Hench
Department of Biology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.
E-mail: ghench{at}

I was leading a Biology 101 evening lab and one of my older students was having a little trouble with the microscope. I helped her find the elodea leaf and then put the specimen in focus. When she looked again she yelled out "I see it, I see it, I see it!" and did a little dance. She was so excited and thanked me over and over again for my help. That moment will always stick with me. At that time I wasn't completely sure I would make it as a great teacher. I think I am a good teacher but I know I can be better. That one moment helped focus me to work harder to have more moments like that! I want people to see the science all around them and to help them understand it better!
Chris Wayne Holman
Division of Math and Sciences, Department of Biology, Piedmont Virginia Community College, Charlottesville, VA 22902, USA.
E-mail: cholman{at}

I was born and raised in a village in Nepal. During my high school time, only talented students were encouraged to take science major. Most of the community members believed (still believe) that studying science leads to a better job and good life in future. This is true. That community perception actually brought me to science. Later on, I specialized in chemistry, which was even an easier path to get job compared with other disciplines. Now I am happy with a career in chemistry. I like it and am enjoying it.
Basant Giri
Department of Chemistry, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82070, USA.
E-mail: bgiri{at}

Just out of college with a Japanese literature degree, I toured a state-of-the-art recycling plant in Yokosuka, Japan. When I heard the figures on the staggering amount of waste the facility processes (about 220 tons per day, or around 50,000 tons per year for a city of 400,000 people, or around 125 kg per year per person), I was amazed; it seemed like a lot of trash for a small city. This was what started my investigation of the fate of household waste. Then I got into looking at where the things we use come from, which eventually made me realize it was time for a career change. It turns out you need to know things like physics, chemistry, and biology to understand energy and material cycling, so I went back to school. I ended up studying agriculture and environmental chemistry, and that's what I'm up to today.
Mike Massey
Department of Environmental Earth System Science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305–4216, USA.
E-mail: mmassey{at}

When I was 18 years old, I worked in a hospice for 12 months as part of my civilian service requirement of the German government. Throughout my time, I accompanied old and young people in what was the last chapter of their life. Interestingly, for some of the older adults, it turn out to be not their last chapter—due to intensive care and attention they recovered from what the doctor said was a terminal disease and after a while they were released into assisted living homes or back to their families. Throughout my time in this hospice, I learned many life lessons from older individuals about the importance of changing priorities when you get older, "letting things go," and the value of time over money. Some of the merits of these lessons I only now begin to realize. These and other experiences inspired me to study the psychology and neuroscience of aging, because I realized that the aging mind and body has a fascinating potential of recovery and experience that is often so underutilized. Sometimes I am still stunned by the variety and diversity of the aging population and although I see less of them in my daily routine, I am grateful for the opportunity to study the aging mind.
Gérard Nisal Bischof
Center for Vital Longevity, University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, TX 75235, USA.
E-mail: gerard.bischof{at}

Top online essays

As a child of the 80s, the PBS television programs Wild America and Nature introduced this city kid to the marvels and wonders of the natural world. My father made it appointment television for us and I loved learning about the unique characteristics and quirks of the plants and wildlife around me. From an early age I knew that I wanted to become a biologist of some sort. Thank you Marty Stouffer, thank you George Page.
Sergio Y. Alcoser
Biological Testing Branch, Developmental Therapeutics Program, Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis, National Cancer Institute-Frederick, Frederick, MD 21703, USA.
E-mail: alcosers{at}

Last year, during a conference break, one of the most prominent scientists in my field (his field, actually) decided to chat with me—a shy first-year Ph.D. student—of all people in the room. The topic was careers in science and young people. While casually sipping some juice and screening posters with his eyes, he gave me a piece of advice, which I want to believe to be precious. He told me not to plan and worry too much, because those things are useless and just feed on our energy. If I do my best, opportunities will come. And when they do, I must grab them and keep working hard and, before I know it, I'll have a career. "That's what happened to me!" Researchers are used to walking down unstable career paths. Anyone who knows the news, knows that being young and Portuguese doubles the trouble. In times of pessimism, or simply during a bad day, I hold on to those words I heard over a pair of canapés. When anxiety becomes excessive, adverse circumstances can defeat us even before the struggle started. Balancing our chin up and shaping our profession with a positive attitude will spare us that trouble.
Joana Almeida
Division Forest, Nature and Landscape - KU Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200E Box 2411, Leuven, 3001, Belgium.
E-mail: joana.almeida{at}

I still remember what I had for lunch the day Professor Robert Sapolsky's lecture changed my world view: the chicken burrito special at the Treehouse. I chewed the slightly charred, guacamole-smothered pieces of shredded chicken, as I listened to the story of the Ma'asai woman who was ostracized from her community for being essentially what we would call schizophrenic, for hearing voices that were not there. When the younger Professor Sapolsky challenged the elders, asking them how her hallucinations were different from the voices heard by the highly esteemed tribal healers, the elders were unfazed: You see, they explained, everybody hears voices, but that woman hears her voices at the wrong time. That vignette served to illustrate a larger point: There are no bad genes, simply bad gene-environment interactions. Schizophrenia has a considerable heritable component and hinders reproduction, yet persists throughout generations largely because in some situations, being mildly schizotypal actually confers an evolutionary advantage; think of the shamans, the prophets, the medicine men whose source of power lies in their apparent ability to hear divine voices. Similarly, the same genes that once protected us from starvation are now vilified because of their link to obesity. No good or bad genes—just favorable or deleterious gene-environment interactions. And thus, my interest in gene-environment interactions was born. I am now in the second year of my postdoctoral fellowship studying these very interactions, but to this day, I remember the story that got me into this field 7 years ago.
Stella Aslibekyan
Department of Epidemiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, RPHB 217G, Birmingham, AL 35294, USA.
E-mail: saslibek{at}

I think that a lot of experiences or moments of my life have directed me to the way that I am following, because I have had the opportunity to be in touch with very inspired and motivated people that helped me to realize what science is and how grateful I am to contribute to its development. However, there was an important turning point during my sophomore year at a Brazilian university: When I was accepted to an international Research Experience as Undergraduate at UCLA, that totally affected my worldview and my science. I was used to studying silicon-based porous materials in Brazil, and I was assigned to join a laboratory where my supervisor and his group of inspired students showed me another world through the study of novel porous materials composed by the union of inorganic metallic centers and rigid organic ligands, in what are known as metal-organic frameworks. The versatility of structure, composition, and applications achieved with these materials convinced me that a lot of work should be done in order to understand this new type of porous solid. Indeed, this experience proved to me that it was the time to change my research, think out of the box, and go beyond the boundaries.
Ricardo Barroso Ferreira
Institute of Chemistry, State University of Campinas, Campinas, Sao Paulo, 13084791, Brazil.
E-mail: ricardobferreira{at}

Two years ago, during the World Food Prize event, I was invited for dinner in the house of a very successful businessman. Among the guests were all my fellow Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars and their advisors. The dinner soon revealed itself to be the most pleasant and interesting of my life. Surrounded by friends and colleagues the conversation spaced from academic jokes to deep discussion on food security and world agriculture. Ideas were shared and pure scientific joy surrounded the tables; in a way, I could feel the essence of Dr. Norman Borlaug thick in the air. Somehow, the discussion stumbled onto commitment to science. I contributed to the conversation by describing the research habits of three excellent scientists, whom I had witnessed a few years before while working in Australia. One of them worked non-stop, Monday through Sunday, 12 or more hours per day. The second also worked hard, but never on weekends. The third one worked 8am to 6pm, never missing a weekend with his newlywed wife. After two years, all of them published two papers, but only the third one was accepted by Science. I thought my little story made a point that good science does not need workaholic commitment. Dr. Susan McCouch smiled from the chair next to mine, agreeing with my point, but then she added the words that have been driving me through very long working nights ever since: "If hunger does not work 8 to 5, why should you?"
Filippo Maria Bassi
North Dakota State University, Department of Plant Sciences, Fargo, ND 58102, USA.
E-mail: filippo.bassi{at}

I know it sounds cheesy, but I always wanted to be a scientist. I guess I have my father (a physics teacher) to thank for that! One of my earliest memories is him sitting in the lounge with me using my younger brother's train set to explain to me how electricity worked. I grew up on Star Wars, Star Trek, and Farscape, on stories about the Big Bang and the movements of the planets. But maybe he only nurtured what was already there—when I was really young, I asked him to explain the exact science behind how sound came out of the car radio. Apparently his years of secondary school teaching didn't prepare him for a grilling by a very inquisitive (and very stubborn) 4 year old! Through school he helped me expand my knowledge beyond what I was taught in the classroom and his enthusiasm kept me motivated through all the exams, the University interviews, and even in the face of the blatant sexism that threatened to hold me back in high school. Twenty years on from the car radio incident and I'm studying for my Ph.D. in the cell biology of HIV-1 infection in macrophages, but the competition as to who can get the best grades and most letters after their name rages on. So sorry to all my other teachers, professors and supervisors—you've all inspired me and pushed me forward in your own unique way but it was already a done deal. With help from my father, I already knew the path I wanted to take (although I'm still not sure he's forgiven me for becoming a biologist rather than a physicist).
Amy Baxter
Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, Oxford University, Oxford, OX1 3RE, UK.
E-mail: amy.baxter{at}

Writing a Ph.D. thesis (that's what I am doing now) is definitely the experience that is changing my way of viewing science and education. Since the beginning of my undergraduate studies my training was of great quality, but there is a part of science (and in general of life) that cannot be taught. This part can be only learned by self-experience. When learning through trial and error we are experiencing failure bringing us solid knowledge that we can build upon. That demands a lot of courage and self-determination, but it's worth it. On the other hand, the saying goes smart people learn from mistakes made by others. Indeed, we should also be able to project and evaluate potential risks and gains resulting from our actions. I have to learn how to learn.
Andrzej Bialowas
INSERM UMR 1072, Aix-Marseille Université, Faculté de Medecine - Campus Nord, Marseille, 13344, France.
E-mail: andrzej.bialowas{at}

I was about 6 months away from getting my Ph.D. (though at the time I didn't know that). I had become a little disillusioned with research throughout the previous 6 years as nothing seemed to quite work. Finally, though, I had an experiment that I knew I could do and get consistent results. I went into the lab at 7:00 am on a Saturday, ready to spend the whole day collecting data. I had lunch delivered to the lab, and I probably left lab around 4:00 or 5:00 in the evening. I remember thinking to myself, here I am, actually getting reproducible results, collecting data I can trust, and I'm not excited about it. I realized that if I wasn't able to relish the one shining moment (no matter how minor it may seem) out of 6 years of darkness, then I couldn't cut it in a research career.
Jennifer Cable
New York, NY 10012, USA.
E-mail: jennlcable{at}

My "a-ha" moment career-wise happened when I was an undergrad. Like many classmates, I was interested in biology and had vague aspirations to be a physician. As part of a student group, I organized volunteers to visit the pediatric oncology ward at our university hospital around the holidays. We made door decorations, cards, and played games with patients and siblings of patients on the ward. Though for most of the male volunteers, they spent their 2 hours getting beaten at video games by an 11-year-old patient, Johnnie. For college-age males, the loss was devastating. At the next volunteer session, I spent my time going around to patient rooms and hanging up decorations and handing out cards. One of the rooms I visited had a family surrounding a sleeping, sick boy on his hospital bed. I quietly began to hang-up decorations and realized the boy was the same Johnnie from the previous week. Someone mentioned he recently had chemotherapy and was very sick because of it. It struck me that the very medicine used to cure these diseases made the patients so sick, and in my very naïve way I decided that I wanted to be the one to make better drugs. Several years and a Ph.D. later, I realize how complicated it is to treat complex diseases like cancer, yet I still hold on to that hope that someday my research will lead to better treatments for children like Johnnie.
Heather Ann Carleton-Romer
Yale University, Department of Microbial Pathogenesis, New Haven, CT 06519, USA.
E-mail: heather.carleton{at}

"Evolution often plays out over millennia. George Church says he can make it happen in days." This statement caught my eye as I read through a business magazine, ironically, while I was in the middle of a short break during an advanced placement biology lecture. As I reflect on the decision of why I chose to study science in college, that one sentence and that one article stand out. I remember going home later that night and looking up Church's research and being astounded; the knowledge I was learning in class was being used by modern scientists to create synthetic life forms. The following lecture, I talked over Church's research with my teacher and realized my own excitement, and, for the first time, could picture myself doing research and thinking deeply about nature. Thus, the facts and experiments I had memorized in high school classes did not inspire me; it was instead the example of a modern, pioneering scientist that sparked my passion for science. Since that point, I have had an incredible desire to understand how everything around me works and to do my part in advancing scientific thought. Now, in finishing my first year of college, I know that I have chosen the correct path after thoroughly enjoying my science courses and doing research under a mentor. I am looking toward my future with optimism and hope that one day I will also be able to motivate a high school student by example.
Jordan Harrison Driskill
University of Pennsylvania, College of Arts and Sciences, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: drjordan{at}

The 2 years I spent in the Peace Corps in Tanzania radically changed my career goals. At the time, I had just finished college and I wanted to expand my horizons and get some teaching experience. I planned to use my engineering and art history majors for the restoration of old buildings and structural engineering. When I left Illinois for Tanzania, I was quickly surrounded by the supportive community at the Moshi Technical Secondary School and stunning views of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The landscape, simple living, and teaching Physics (including introductions to planetary motion and geophysics) combined to nurture my awareness that we all live on a Planet (with a capital P!). It was a revelation to me that the laws of physics used for designing buildings and other people-scaled things could be used to understand the beautiful, subtle, and enormous dynamics of our Earth. In addition to a fascination with large scales, my community in Tanzania taught me the importance of local scales. For the first time, I learned precisely where my water, food, and energy came from. I was surprised by how dependent I was on the local human communities, hydrology, and ecosystems for satisfying basic needs. And, I observed the large-scale dynamics of the Earth making a direct impact on my own day-to-day life. Back home, I eventually decided to pursue a career in Physical Oceanography. Today, I am thankful that my research addresses questions about large-scale ocean circulation and its relevance to the rest of the Earth.
Stefan Francois Gary
Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.
E-mail: stefan.gary{at}

When a classmate and I presented at lab meeting a novel phenomenon we found that contrasted with others' published results but held ground and seemed to defy explanation, our graduate thesis adviser suggested "Ockham's razor." It was my first research encounter with that kind of exciting result and the first time hearing the term and the principle it signified, which he simply described. Since I was younger, I had made effort or given preference to simplifying things and matters, but I realized my desire to do so stemmed primarily from belief in a simple course of nature. "Ockham's razor" continues to remind me that experience can justify complexity; and to prefer the simplest explanation that fits the data accurately.
Nanami Gotoh
Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.
E-mail: nanami.gotoh{at}

I'd have to say that my inspiration in many things, but especially science, was my father. As a young man, my father studied first year archaeology and anthropology before he had to leave university to support his new family by working full time. When I was growing up, he had no formal science qualifications but he always talked about it eagerly. He kept our house full of books, and science documentaries were a common feature on our tv screen. When I was twelve and an avid devourer of fiction novels, my father gave me two books that would make science the focus of my academic life from then on. The first was a book on Lucy, the early Australopithecine. Part of what I remember from the book was the sheer fascination of what Lucy was like and the other part was the accounts of the real men and women out in the field who discovered and studied her. I wanted to be one of them, a scientist who did more than my stereotypical vision of playing with test-tubes and wearing a white coat. The second book was about the preserved Bogmen of Europe. It was full of pictures and lacked the over-dramatic reconstructions common in most of the documentaries I had seen. Instead, it was full of facts. It had detailed captions and explained how they had come to a lot of their conclusions and carefully took note of anything which was suspected but not yet proved. This might be standard for a lot of academics but I clearly remember it as being the first time I realized that scientists didn't know everything. They emphasized repeatedly that there were still answers to be found and that science was the way to find them. After these two books I was hooked, and today I've got a bachelors degree in human biology (with honors). I've studied human and comparative biology as well as archaeology, and I'm working hard to finish my  Ph.D. in marsupial anatomy.
Claire Bernadette Hadley
Perth, Western Australia, 6163, Australia.
E-mail: clairehadley{at}

During the first year of my postdoctoral fellowship, I had an experience that fundamentally changed my career goals. I worked on a project to extend an exciting discovery, a novel regulator of breast cancer metastasis, which had been recently published in Nature. My excitement turned to despair when I was unable to reproduce the original finding, and after confirming the original finding could not be replicated, I wrote a follow-up paper, which was rejected from Nature, Science, and Cell without review. Shockingly, the original authors and even the head of the university where the work was done wrote hostile letters about my failed attempt to reproduce their work ( and This experience was my first encounter with the systematic bias against reproducibility in the academic research world, documented by Ioannidis ( and highlighted by the Bayer ( and Amgen ( drug target studies. This experience showed me that the route to career success was not careful, responsible, reproducible work, but rather controversial, and likely false, positive findings. At this point, my career goal turned from the tenure track to the business world, where I'm now building a system to enable and incentivize high quality robust research from academic labs. I hope this system will enable greater translation of robust results into clinical application.
Elizabeth Iorns
Science Exchange, Palo Alto, CA 94301, USA.
E-mail: elizabeth{at}

When I was just a community college student and was trying to transfer to the University of Texas at Austin, I thought I wanted to be lawyer. Accordingly, I applied to be a government major at UT. One day at work I was reading the newspaper and there was a little blurb, not even a full article but just a few paragraphs about something called synthetic biology which, as I understood at the time, consisted of shuffling parts around from different organisms to get novel functions. I read it and thought it sounded very interesting. I remember thinking, "I could do that." Within the week I had faxed UT a document saying that I wanted to major in biology. I got in and eventually earned degrees in biochemistry and mathematics. I am now a graduate student in biophysics, which I love, at the University of Pennsylvania, because one day I saw something curious in the newspaper.
Joe Jordan
Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: e.jjordan12{at}

I was pursuing my Master's in physical science and we had an instructor to teach us Organic Chemistry. The subject to begin with always sounded boring to me but as the course progressed, the energy and enthusiasm of the instructor struck a chord. It began to show me that things are beautiful scientifically if they are presented in a lucid and interesting manner. Thereafter I took several courses taught by the same instructor and by the time I was close to graduating, I knew research in a scientific field is something I was really getting interesting in pursuing. It was at this time that a biological sciences institute also started in my university; I took several courses and became totally smitten by the depth of knowledge and principles one could explore. Since then I have done my Ph.D. in biomedical sciences from Rockefeller University and am currently pursuing a postdoc at Genentech. Even though I haven't quite stayed in the physical sciences, which is where the fascination began, I still think that it was those formative years that really pushed me over the line to pursue a career in research. Now having spent quite a few years in it, there is just nothing else I know I want to do since the thrill and joy of being in research just beats everything else.
Neeraj Kapoor
Physiological Chemistry, South San Francisco, CA 94080, USA.
E-mail: mailtome.neeraj{at}

As a new freshman at U.C. Berkeley, I had my entire career path planned out: I would earn my degree in biochemistry, apply to medical school, and become a physician. While planning out my course schedule for the semester I decided (somewhat on a whim) to supplement my pre-med classes by taking an "Introduction to Astronomy" course taught by Professor Alex Filippenko. I'd heard other students rave enthusiastically about the class, giving both the subject material and instructor wildly glowing reviews and praise that seemed to border almost on fanaticism. Somewhat skeptical, I attended the first day of class expecting nothing more than a really great lecture by a highly popular professor. Well, I certainly got that great lecture, but a whole lot more as well. Alex's wild enthusiasm and love for all things astronomy (and supernovae in particular) quickly rubbed off on me. At the end of the semester, I decided to change my major to astrophysics. Over the next few years, I worked with Alex as a member of his research team, looking for and analyzing the light curves of supernovae. When I became a student instructor for Alex's course, I discovered how I much I enjoyed teaching and explaining science to others. Today I am a doctoral student earning my degree in science education. It's hard to believe that one decision could have such an incredibly profound impact on my career and life, but I absolutely love where it's led me. Thank you, Alex!!!
Jennifer King Chen
Graduate School of Education, Department of Education in Math, Science and Technology, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720–1670, USA.

My career course changed from a postdoctoral position to a scientific training specialist. I have no regrets at all. During the course of my scientific training from graduate school to two consecutive postdocs, I found it really disconcerting to lack support all way through. Was I unlucky enough to pick the wrong places each time? Maybe or maybe not. Nonetheless, being unhappy at the bench opened my eyes about other activities that I got involved in. I used my scientific background to perform outreach in schools. I used my underserved scientific training for looking for volunteering positions where I could learn the administrative side of science. And here I am today. I am looking at scientific training with a more critical eye having learned from my mistakes. I am very happy and I have no regrets about my move. On a daily basis, I am focusing my time on raising awareness among the next generation of postdocs on what they should expect for them, and what is expected from them.
Gaelle F. Kolb
Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.
E-mail: gaellekolb{at}

My life-changing science experience was a biotechnology class in high school. It was the first to be offered in the district, the first year it was taught, and the teacher was a former state crime lab technician. One demo in particular blew my mind: the now canonical spooling of the DNA onto a glass rod. The idea that something so small could be accessed and made visible so easily, yet have such profound implications for all life, made me decide then and there to pursue a career in biotechnology. I went on to major in physics with a minor in biology, then pursued a Ph.D. in Bioengineering.
Eric Lagally
Seattle, WA 98125, USA.
E-mail: eric.lagally{at}

I am from a working class background in a deprived part of the UK. My parents, however, instilled a great work ethic in me and encouraged me in my education. When I was 9 years old, I dreamed of going to university, something people in my neighborhood did not do. I expressed my hopes to other children at school. One of them told me it was a waste of time. He went on to say that when he leaves school he was going to become a mechanic. I remember clearly thinking (but not saying at loud!) that when I leave university I was going to be his boss. This encounter hardened my resolve and I graduated first in my class in Engineering and gained a Ph.D. in a fascinating part of mechanical engineering. I have become an Associate Professor and emigrated to South Africa, which is much bigger than my dream ever imagined (I could not imagine ever leaving my home time, so leaving the UK was not even a consideration). This has encouraged me to ignore the voices of others who told me it could not be done, and follow the dream in my heart. I do not know what happened to that boy, but I hope he is living his dream. I suspect that, sadly, he is not.
Genevieve Sarah Langdon
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Cape Town, Western Cape, 7700, South Africa.
E-mail: genevieve.langdon{at}

I remember experiencing some distress when the instructor announced, "This course will cover the history of science. Freshmen, if you have the wrong class, you may leave now." Hearing snickers at the thought of such a preposterous mistake, I sat still and blushed, wondering where the History of Asia course I thought I signed up for was held. As it turned out, this was the unintended fork in the road that defined my interest in the scientific process and the idea of "doing science" as a tangible career. As a new college student, I had the dry facts and formulas memorized. It was enticing to find that these were not rigid, but rather a snapshot of our rather fluid consensus of our understanding of the world. Imagine that the shift in astronomy between Copernicus and Galileo's theories still happens today. The idea of science as something a student could have a more participatory role in, rather than being just an adept parrot hooked me and I have enjoyed the challenges since. Along the way, I have been fortunate to encounter many inspiring mentors and advocates.
Gloria Kuo Lefkowitz
San Diego, CA 92122, USA.
E-mail: lorikuo{at}

After more than 6 years into the real molecular biology, I realize that the biggest challenge in life science is not biological questions, but the tools to study them. An ancient Chinese idiom says "To do things well, a worker must sharpen his tool." But we still largely rely on the old laborious and inaccurate Western Blots to detect specific proteins in the given samples of tissue homogenate or cell extract. It's as if we still used stones to cut trees. Suppose that we had a nano device that could go into tissues or cells and report the specific molecular events; then most of the challenging biological questions would be easily solved. Unfortunately, most of senior life scientists pay little attentions on inventing such suitable tools. Grants are largely directed to addressing questions of so-called fundamental biology, say translational sciences, while the more urgent challenge, inventing proper tools, remains greatly undervalued. Most PIs focus mainly on WHAT and WHY, and see HOW as the responsibility of postdocs or students. Most labs never consider developing new techs. Some PIs even discourage students/postdocs to do that saying it's not their duty. I bet that life science will have little advance in the next 30 years if we still rely on Western Blot invented more than 30 years ago. These experiences changed my career goal from a research scientist to a biological engineer focusing more on inventing tools for biological research!
Tingkai Kevin Liu
Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA.
E-mail: tanklao{at}

I was around 6 and eating oranges when I learned from the "Bill Nye the Science Guy" that DNA was the blueprint of life. My knowledge of this fun fact amazed my teachers, and I was luckily chosen as one of a fortunate few to receive science lessons in my public elementary school. My exposure to the wonders of science at such an age, made possible by Bill Nye, founded my passion in science and has led me toward a career in biotechnology. While my road toward a science career surely isn't uncommon, I believe it highlights what should be two pillars of science education reform: improving accessibility and opportunity. First, increasing the prevalence of quality science educational programs that are broad, easily digestible, and readily available to the public is paramount in motivating and inspiring our next generation of leaders and problem-solvers. Sponsoring the production and airing of educational TV programs such as Bill Nye, especially those aimed at younger audiences, is one great and cost-effective way to improve science accessibility. Second, it is then imperative to ensure that every individual interested in pursuing science is empowered and provided with the opportunity to do so. Initiatives such as "open sourcing" research will provide anyone passionate about science a chance to become involved, and even make meaningful scientific contributions. Steps to seed the ensured health of our scientific future are ready to be taken. Let's take them so that the prosperity of our budding scientists may sprout.
Hoang Dung Lu
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.
E-mail: hoang{at}

My major in biology was initially intended to pursue a degree in medicine; however, at 19 years of age, when my father was diagnosed with colon cancer, I chose to switch my pursuit from a practice in medicine to that of cancer research, to exploring the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the disease that took his life prematurely and changed my life and the lives of many in my family. I realized with his far-too-sudden death that very little is known about cancer, how to treat patients specifically with that type of cancer, and how generic the treatment regimens chosen were for him and many others like him. During my doctoral studies in cancer research, I also realized the pace from bench discoveries to bedside clinical therapeutic applications was too slow coming from years of experience working with mice to form cancer models, so I quickly transitioned from basic science cancer research to clinical research in oncology. My career goal to advance therapies in oncology and extend the lives of cancer patients indirectly as a Clinical Research Scientist was going to be achieved faster if I could work together with oncologists to design clinical trials that were based on basic and preclinical scientific discoveries rather than the cookie-cutter approach taken for many, many years. I am deeply involved in many forms of medical discoveries from the cellular and molecular targets driving specific malignancies to defining patient outcome and the clinical development of new investigational agents. It is certainly an inspirational and rewarding career choice, one which I have never regretted and only wish I could have shared with my dad.
Ines Maria Macias-Perez
Hermitage, TN 37076, USA.
E-mail: imaciasperez{at}

Mentors have a life-changing influence. It was a decade ago, a time when I still didn't know what I wanted to do. I was a biochemistry undergraduate and I chose a final year project on bioinformatics, something that I knew nothing about. The aim of that project was to identify common motifs in the regulatory regions of some co-regulated genes. My co-supervisor, Dr. Brian Wong, patiently built up my bioinformatics knowledge from nothing and guided me through the project. There was a time when we were both 99% sure that there was nothing in the data. But Brian said "When things don't seem to work, let's stand up and look at them from a different angle." At that time, I thought it was a joke, but after I went home, I really tried to plot the data in a few different ways (maybe I did stand up and look at the graphs from different angles), and wow…I really saw a common pattern in the data. Our prediction was soon proved and this first experience in research was wonderful. It was incredibly satisfying and encouraging to know that no matter how insignificant I thought I was, I am able to not only enjoy science, but also contribute to it! Surely, I picked research as my career.
Angel Mak
Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94158, USA.
E-mail: maka{at}

I used to be amazed when celebrities said they started performing at a very young age (below 10). It never occurred to me that the same happened to me. I was only 10 years old attending primary school when my future was transformed. I was doing grade 5 when my mathematics teacher (now a family friend) noted my excellence in the subject. He arranged to promote me from grade 5 to 7. I still remember vividly, instead of being excited and exhilarated, I got frustrated and cried so badly. I was worried about how I was going to continue excelling with missing information. I was always a brilliant learner but that incident had put a lot of pressure on me. Since that day, I decided to work extremely hard so that I don't disappoint my observant teacher. I became fond of mathematics to such an extent that I made sure every day to solve a problem from the textbook. I completed both my primary and secondary schooling with good grades. Sadly, coming from rural areas, I didn't know what I wanted to become after schooling. However, when I got to university, I knew that I wanted to study sciences. I continued studying hard and completed my bachelor, honors (cum laude) and Ph.D. degrees in physics at a very young age. As a young scientist, I was influenced by excellence and my observant teacher. Today I am feeling lucky to be counted amongst handful of black SA women holding a Ph.D. (physics).
Rapela Regina Maphanga
Materials Modelling Centre, University of Limpopo, Sovenga, Polokwane, Limpopo, 727, South Africa.
E-mail: rapela.maphanga{at}

My high school offered a class in Environmental Science and Economics (GSGIS, Richmond, VA, USA). We were assigned "The Tragedy of the Commons" [G. Hardin, Science 162, 3859 (1968)]. Upon re-reading this article, I recollect many topics that we studied, from the formation and constitution of the Earth, to Mr. Schreiber's pollution-related asthma and the abstracted price of bread in France. It's difficult to say exactly how this assignment changed my career goals, but there was certainly an impact, given that I toted the same class print-out from university to university over the next decade. I suppose I was impressed and learned, for the first time, that while I enjoy hypotheses, measurements, data, and conclusions, I find it fascinating to reflect on the application of our knowledge of the Earth to human activities. And still more fascinating, and please allow me to bestow this gratitude to Mr. David Barnes and Mr. Les Schreiber, is to reflect on how, when, and why I was inspired to think. I hope as a researcher and educator that I can further promote their success.
Travis Blake Meador
University of Bremen, Marum Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, Bremen, 28359, Germany.
E-mail: travis.meador{at}

Molecular Juggle White, electric noise cushions the ambush of ragged black lines. Angled dips and dives printed coarsely on the page arrest my eyes. And I froze. Then a high school sophomore in Utica, Michigan, I waded into the deep-end of Campbell's Biology textbook. Treading clumsily, I lingered only briefly over each picture, diagram, or table on a page. There were warm-colored globules with shadowy edges and hard highlights touching at soft interfaces (it is how we render proteins, I would learn), arrows, and scattered words directing eye traffic. Biology class was over, but the bell had yet to ring. And something caught my eye. The figure was like radio-static. A meaningless apocalyptic bird song clawed on the printed page like canaries dancing through an ink-factory gave me pause. I floated in the undertow, mystified. There was nothing like this in those 1000+ pages. The caption read "Single-channel electrophysiological recordings." Confused, I learned the boxy up and down of dashed lines represented the molecular juggle of a single ion channel bursting open and its vociferous closure. "Tiny needles" punctured a single cell to make the recording. Breathtaking. Here, I stopped treading water and began to swim. Two years later, I joined Haoxing Xu's electrophysiology lab at the University of Michigan and fell in love with science. I am currently pursuing MD and Ph.D. degrees to become a physician scientist and cardiologist. The accidental romance of that moment revolutionized my life, setting me on a course of scientific discovery and passion.
Eric W. Mills
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.
E-mail: emills12{at}

When I was part of a research team conducting a longitudinal migration, health, and family study in Malawi—one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa—I realized how meticulous people from our bus drivers to field assistants to project managers to the co-investigators have to be in order to collect, produce, and eventually disseminate high-quality data. From this project, some of the most influential papers on HIV/AIDS, polygamy and other concurrent sexual partnerships, and the role of domestic migration in this process have been produced in the field of demography. I was inspired to finish my master's quickly and get onto starting a Ph.D. with a heavy emphasis on demography. Now I am at that point and looking forward to the next step!
Tyler Wiktor Myroniuk
Sociology Department, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.
E-mail: myroniuk{at}

Funding and freedom. It is always challenging to become an independent scientist, especially in times of global shrinkage of funding. This is why I will always cherish the support provided by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation with an award in 2010, in a moment when I was having several grant applications denied, despite a previous remarkable record of publications. The best characteristic of this fellowship is that you have no strings or conditions imposed to use the grant, providing a unique freedom to fund your most intuitive, personal and bold ideas. Such initiative should be replicated in order to have more young scientists investing in their most original projects, instead of following the most common and predictable pathway for a young scientist which is to follow a "safer hot topic." Two years after that I had the pleasure of contribute in a collective effort which ended in identifying the first gene globally associated with familial idiopathic basal ganglia calcification, also known as Fahr's Disease, a rare disorder which mimics several neuropsychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, dementia, and parkinsonism. Eventually this finding, published in a high–impact factor journal, will contribute with the planning of new diagnosis and therapeutic approaches against neurodegeneration. Such initiatives would make a huge difference in the very beginning of any scientific career.
João Ricardo Mendes Oliveira
Federal University of Pernambuco, Neuropsychiatry Department, Cidade Universitária
Recife, Pernambuco, 50670-901, Brazil.
E-mail: joao.ricardo{at}

In August 2005 I was beginning my fourth year as a Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry and molecular biology at LSU-HSC New Orleans. Following Hurricane Katrina my laboratory temporarily relocated to University of Virginia, who offered us space and services during the rehabilitation of New Orleans. Approximately 2 weeks following the storm, during which there was little communication about the future of the graduate school, I received an award letter for a predoctoral fellowship from the DOD. At the time, I had no idea when or if I would ever be able to use the award; I never thought that I would ultimately owe my degree to it. In May of 2006 the LSU-HSC New Orleans reopened, but the storm had taken its toll. Our lab lost funding, and it dwindled, as first my fellow grad student and then others had to leave. By the time I graduated, there were 3 of us left; I knew that my continuation was solely due to my external funding. The independence that fact conferred was amazing and humbling; amazing because it was my first successful step into the world of academic biomedical research, humbling because I knew that my success was totally dependent on that funding. I am lucky to have had this experience at the very beginning of my career, and it led me to establish my top priority goal: to maintain external funding throughout my career. I am happy to report that as a postdoc, I have thus far met that goal.
Electa R. Park
Laboratory of Integrin Signaling and Tumorigenesis, Van Andel Research Institute, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, USA.
E-mail: electarae{at}

In my early childhood years more than often my days were filled with more questions than answers. Among my questions were why everything turns black when it burns no matter the initial color, why a week has only seven days, and why a fragile object like an egg becomes rigid when put into boiled water whereas a rigid potato softens? When asking my parents they would tell me that I asked a lot and should perhaps become a lawyer. Unfortunately the only lawyer close to the family had very little interest in answering my questions. My interest was not in asking questions but in knowing the answers. Owing to my general curiosity my English teacher suggested that I make use of the Library in the local University. At the library in the University of Limpopo, I came across a statement that shook my focus towards science. It read "science is an elegant complex of human intellect an imagination." I then desired the science stream. I eventually learned of outreach programs the university usually held, and took part in one which was devoted to engineering. Becoming an engineer was an interesting prospect; however, the lack of resources and sufficient facilitators at school compromised my grades to qualify. I then chose to enroll for a B.Sc. in physics, chemistry, and computer science. The discipline catered for the provision of obtaining answers and continual learning. Currently I am pursuing a scientific research based career in computational modeling of materials.
Katlego William Phoshoko
Department of Physics and Geology, University of Limpopo, Materials Modelling Centre, Sovenga, Polokwane, Limpopo, 727, South Africa.
E-mail: kwphoshoko{at}

While working on my undergraduate project, I was encouraged to describe the phenomena I was observing. This was in the field of geography, and the broad topic was nature conservation in Amazonia. I was 100% involved in my study, planned my first independent research trip, spent 3 months collecting data along the Amazon river, and have been much in love with the region since. Yet, by the time I was finishing that project, my mind was captured by an entirely different approach than bearing witness in writing observations down. At the Department of Hydrobiology of my hometown university, where ecology of freshwater organisms is being studied, I was reintroduced to the scientific method, and fully experienced the process this time. I would be presented with a problem, ask questions, put forward hypotheses, and discuss ways of testing them. These puzzles fascinated more than the exoticism of the beloved tropics. Moreover, in place of what was to me a solely descriptive analysis, I was handling statistical and mathematical tools to support me in attempts of answering the questions. Looking back at things, I am perfectly aware that I could get "the systematic" that I was looking for, in geography or in any other field of science. But at that important time in my education, I learned that among limnologists. And somehow, I have been studying the ecology of the small freshwater crustacean, Daphnia, ever since.
Barbara Pietrzak
Department of Hydrobiology, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, 00-214, Poland.
E-mail: b.pietrzak{at}

My interests in cardiovascular disease research developed at an early age. I am originally from a rural underserved county in the panhandle of Florida (Gadsden County) where cardiovascular health ranks among the poorest in the country. After witnessing family members unsuccessfully battle a plethora of cardiovascular diseases, I decided to pursue a research career in cardiovascular medicine. I enrolled at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University after graduating high school in 1997. As a student in the College of Pharmacy, I sought opportunities to become involved in research. I was accepted into the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement program that exposes minorities to careers in research in the summer of 2001. During the McNair Program, I read a paper on Pharmacogenetics authored by Dr. Julie Johnson, a faculty member at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy. I was fascinated with the possibility of using genetic biomarkers to predict optimal response to cardiovascular therapeutics. Therefore, I emailed her inquiring about her work and the training required for pharmacogenetics research. Dr. Johnson was pleased to be contacted by a student interested in cardiovascular pharmacogenetics. She answered my questions and extended me an invitation to visit Gainesville for a tour of her laboratories. I gladly accepted her offer and after meeting her we developed a mentor/mentee relationship. After graduating from Florida A&M University, I enrolled in the first class of Ph.D. students in clinical pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Florida. I was on my way to becoming a scientist.
Elvin Tyrone Price
Pharmaceutical Sciences Department, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR 72205–7199, USA.
E-mail: ETPrice{at}

One video that I watched on Youtube when I was 17 years old was particularly inspiring to me. In that video, a doctor was talking about how he thought the evolutionary view of the origin of life on Earth was so much more beautiful than the religious view to him. I automatically identified myself with his speech and the rational posture he was defending in the topics of discussion. It was very exciting, because I couldn't remember hearing anyone saying those things so openly. I don't think I was persuaded by anything he said, I already had many similar ideas, the main point was to finally hear a respectable, famous, and kind person saying "yes, I think like that." I believe it helped me to conclude that "well, so I guess I can think like that too!" I never stopped reading about science since then, it became quite a strong part of my cognition. And now as an undergraduate student I am (hopefully) on my way to become a part of it!
André Luiz Alves Rabelo
University of Brasília, Brasília, Distrito Federal, Brazil.
E-mail: andreluiz.arabelo{at}

"For All the Good People." On 9 June 2001, I was on a trip to Washington D.C. with my brother and sister-in-law. After a long walk around the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, we wanted to take a break, so we walked into a meeting of "Genetic Alliance" with some guy singing "For All the Good People" with his guitar. After the song, the same guy gave a public lecture on the "Human Genome." It was fascinating to listen to the promise of human genomics for the prevention and treatment of many diseases. Immediately after his talk, I went up to him and asked him, "How can I get involved in genetic research as a computer science major?" He replied, "We will need many computer scientists in the future to help with interpreting the genome." I was so inspired that after I went back to college that fall, I enrolled in a bioinformatics program and volunteered to fix computers and write simple code for biomedical scientists. I did it all as an unpaid volunteer for over 3 years. The guy with the guitar was Dr. Francis Collins (Director of NIH). I had the privilege to listen to him play his guitar (again) at the Cold Spring Harbor Biology of Genomes Meeting in 2011. But this time I knew heck a lot more about the genome (and Dr. Collins!). And yes, I have been actively involved in research ever since our encounter back in 2001.
Towfique Raj
Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
E-mail: trajnp{at}

I am researcher in a French institute for environmental research and expertise. I work especially on the development of effect-based monitoring tools in fish and on mechanisms of action of chemical pollutants. In 2008 and 2009, fish exhibiting abdominal swelling were observed by anglers in a stream receiving effluents including industrial discharges. To identify the origin of this disturbance, a field study was designed and several tools (i.e., biomarkers) were measured in wild fish living in the damaged rivers. The collected data allowed us to identify that endocrine disruption is involved in the abdominal swelling of gudgeon due to high level of intersex and associated gonad hypertrophy. This case study highlighted the interest of research tools to solve practical environmental problems. Since this study, I develop a novel activity at the border between science and expertise in identifying the origin of damages observed in freshwater aquatic ecosystems.
Wilfried Sanchez
INERIS, Ecotoxicology Unit, Verneuil en Halatte, 60550, France.
E-mail: wilfried.sanchez{at}

As a biology major in my junior year at Agnes Scott College, I was uncertain about my future career. I had recently let go of a long-held plan to become a veterinarian after finally acknowledging my keener interest in basic science. But now what? My interest in biology was strong but unfocused on any particular field. I was enjoying an internship in a bacterial meningitis laboratory but did not know where human health fit into my interests. Meanwhile the economy was tanking and friends and family gently asked about my next move. My professional future seemed murky, until one quiet evening in my Atlanta apartment. While preparing for a presentation for my microbiology class, I stumbled upon an article in Science, "Emerging infectious diseases of wildlife: Threats to biodiversity and human health" (Daszak et al., 2000). The possibility of studying infectious diseases in wildlife was exhilarating. Somehow, I had never before considered this field which addressed my concern for animal health using scientific inquiry. I shouted to my roommate, "Sarah Beth, this is what I want to study!" I spent the next few months poring over papers on the chytrid fungus in amphibians, leptospirosis in sea lions, and white nose syndrome in bats. Today, I remain just as enthralled in this field as a Ph.D. student studying infectious disease ecology in the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia.
Dara Satterfield
Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA.
E-mail: dara7{at}

When I informed my guidance counselor that I wanted to go to a university to major in environmental chemistry, she suggested that I consider taking a year off to figure out what I wanted to do because she did not feel that I would be successful, even when I suggested attending the local community college for my first year or so and then transferring. Considering I had the third highest GPA in my graduating class, it was confusing. My chemistry teacher also told me that she did not think that I was suited to chemistry. I was devastated. My old law teacher noticed me in the hallway walking back to my locker and asked me what was wrong. I was in shock and told him what had been advised. He informed me in no uncertain terms that that they obviously did not know what they were talking about, because I was going to be successful no matter what I career path I chose. He went on to highlight my strengths and told me what my weaknesses were that I needed to work on. He told me that he also expected me to keep in touch because he expected great things of me. I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. and have kept him updated every time I visit home. Thank you for believing in me, sir, I wouldn't be here without your advice and support.
Marci Leanne Savage
Center for Coastal Studies, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, TX 78412, USA.
E-mail: mlsavage{at}

I had been taking science courses toward a chemistry degree but lacked a general sense of direction, and felt less than adequate as a woman in mostly male-populated classes. In my modern physics course, I had the pleasure of having the most inspiring professor. Dr. Alice Newman made science, in particular the wonder and greatness of the unknown, come alive. Everything from atoms to cosmos she taught the exhilaration in questioning. More important, she left us wanting to discover further. Math was no longer exasperating. It became a riddle to the universe's secrets. Her patience, energy, and passion were contagious. It was also very moving that she was a top-notch female astrophysicist in the science world. Too often are women in science disregarded. She taught me that one must really shine, and make others respect you for what you know. As the course went on I realized that my constant curiosity of space and natural understanding of chemistry went hand-in-hand. With her help, my concentration is now astrochemistry. I've never felt more passionate towards a goal in my life, and I'm willing to put all the (F) x (d) into it.
Jessica Sharpe
Newbury Park, CA 91320, USA.
E-mail: JessicaElaineSharpe{at}

Maybe I would have found science anyway. After all, nature is amazing and beautiful. But one of my earliest influences was reading A Wind in the Door by Madelaine L'Engle (part of The Wrinkle in Time series). In this book, The It (think: Evil Alien Blob yearning to take over the universe) sends his minions to kill off Charles Wallace, a 6 year old destined to put a serious crimp in his plans if left unstopped. Cleverly, the minions attack by invading Charles's mitochondria, making him fatally ill, presumably by producing some sort of metabolic disorder. His sister Meg is sent into the mitochondria to help direct the Forces of Good to fight off these Forces of Evil and allow the mitochondria to regenerate. When I read A Wind in the Door at the book-wormish age of 9, I thought mitochondria was a clever fictitious invention, albeit a quite silly one (Mitochondria?!?! As if! And who thought of THAT name?!). Nonetheless, I was still taken by the anthropomorphism of biology that appealed to my literary instincts. It inspired me to want to explore the inner workings of the body from literally an insider's view, an urge that stays with me today and colors the way I understand my research. Even nanoscopic biochemical processes can mirror the complex social forces of Good, Bad, and Random seen on a more human-sized scales and this makes them instantly more understandable to me. And what I learn about biology, I can then reflect back onto my understanding of society and interpersonal interactions.
Dalya Soond
Laboratory of Lymphocyte Signalling and Development, Babraham Institute, Babraham, Cambridgeshire, CB22 3AT, UK.
E-mail: Dalya.Soond{at}

I started graduate school thinking I would focus on nucleic acid structural biology. That all changed when I heard David Eisenberg at UCLA describe how computational genomic methods could be used to infer genome-wide protein networks. Could we really start to understand the underlying connectivity of proteins within a cell by using clever computational methods? The answer was yes, and I've never thought about biology the same since. It was the dawn of systems biology approaches to science, a field that has surely blossomed since.
Michael Strong
National Jewish Health / University of Colorado, Denver, Denver, CO 80209, USA.
E-mail: StrongM{at}

I knew I wanted a career in science when I was a child growing up in the state of Georgia. In Atlanta there was an interactive science museum, which, sadly, is now defunct. It was called SciTrek, and it was amazing! As an elementary school student, I had the chance to attend the museum and learn about many scientific concepts—mostly physical, but other disciplines were also there. That single event instilled in me very early a love of scientific explanations for everyday happenings. More kids should have such an experience early on to show them how cool science is!
Samantha Anne Stuckey
Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA.
E-mail: samantha.stuckey{at}

Like many students, I entered college with only vague ideas about my future career. I had really enjoyed biology in high school, and thought I might become a medical doctor. By sophomore year, a great organic chemistry professor had changed my whole outlook: Now, I wanted to become a synthetic chemist! I couldn't decide without getting my hands dirty. For chemistry, I completed two internships at pharmaceutical companies, running reactions and learning about the ins and outs of drug discovery. I loved the work. For medicine, I obtained an EMT-B certification, with training in basic First Aid, rescue, and CPR. When the class finished, I took a third-shift medical assistant position at the University hospital. My first few shifts were uneventful, but one night both sides of a street fight were admitted to our ER. One participant sported a broken nose and jaw, the other several facial lacerations from a broken bottle. I assisted with wound cleaning, stitches, and dressing, and left the room. A sudden wave of nausea hit me, and I began to doubt my future medical career. At semester's end, I resigned, and decided to focus on a career in medicinal chemistry.
Michael A. Tarselli
Biomedisyn Corporation, Woodbridge, CT 06525, USA.
E-mail: mtarselli{at}

Some people come to science on their own, while others are thrust into it from birth. Having been named after the esteemed scientist Lord Kelvin, I am of the latter type; but even with that namesake, there was no guarantee that I would become a scientist. I remember distinctly when I was 8 years old, sitting in the front seat of our car with my dad, rain sprinkling through the clouds and a rainbow appearing. Dad, why are there rainbows? How come it rains? Why is the sky blue? As my dad began explaining about diffraction and prisms, I heard my younger brother in the back seat shush the friend he was sitting next to. "Listen to Kelvin, he always asks my dad so many interesting questions." I had never noticed before, but he was right, I did ask a lot of questions. Furthermore, my dad always seemed to have a scientific answer to my questions and he never discouraged me from asking those questions even if it meant taking an hour to answer all of them. It was at that moment that I realized two things: The first was that my father had always been teaching me how to think scientifically by encouraging my curiosity, and the second was that I wanted to be smart like my father. I wanted to be a scientist.
Kelvin Yen
Pediatrics-Endocrinology, University of California LA, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.
E-mail: kyen{at}