BY: Mikaela Dunkin
EDUCATION: B.A. in both Physics and Biochemistry from Central College, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Stony Brook University
RESEARCH INTERESTS: the use of synchrotron techniques such as energy-dispersive x-ray diffraction in the study of energy storage materials
FUTURE GOALS: I want to develop novel, sustainable energy solutions and help change the world’s current energy climate, creating a paradigm shift in how we make and store energy. I’d also love to work on the development of energy sources for use in space exploration.
Why did you want to be a part of GWiSE?
As an undergrad, I was lucky to have a large group of female friends involved in science, making it easy for me to feel like I belonged. After starting grad school, I realized how few women there are in my program or even pursuing graduate degrees in science. I wanted a way to connect with other women and I realized that it was time for me to start doing more than lead by example. By becoming a part of GWiSE, I actively work to change the culture of academia so that future women wont have to struggle to enter the field of science.
When did you know you were interested in pursuing a degree in science and engineering?
I have always loved learning no matter what the subject was and that made it very difficult for me when I went to college and I had to decide on a major. My first semester I took a general physics course and I loved the challenge the material presented me. I also appreciated how the professor, Dr. Viktor Martisovits, clearly loved what he did. No question was too small or too large for him, he just really enjoyed sharing his scientific knowledge. His enthusiasm inspired me to keep a positive outlook despite the difficulty related to scientific inquiry. After travelling abroad and missing science courses in general, I decided to major in both Physics and Biochemistry. I enjoyed how the fields intersected and complemented one another. I knew I wanted to continue on with my education after working with my undergraduate research advisor, Dr. James Dunne. Our daily chats showed me how much I enjoy scientific discourse and they kept me interested in a variety of topics.
What is one of the most interesting places you have visited?
My study abroad experience in Granada, Spain included a week-long trip to Morocco and it is by far the most interesting place I have been too. I rode a camel, ate good food, and talked to people whose lives have been very different from my own. I learned more about their culture in that week than I would have ever learned in a classroom. The entire trip left vivid memories in my mind and it changed my outlook on what the really important things are in life.
What are your favorite science movies?
My favorite hard science fiction movie is Interstellar because it’s based in what could really happen, but with an added twist of impossibility. That and some really breathtaking imagery. The ending may be a little crazy, but hey, we really don’t know what would happen if you went in a black hole.
My favorite less accurate science movies include Arrival, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Serenity. They all have well-developed characters that drive the plot and they bring to light questions that don’t have perfect black and white answers. Any movie that makes me question what I know is good with me.
Are there any side projects you’ve started recently that you are glad you did?
A couple of years ago I started taking acroyoga – acrobatic yoga – lessons and it is by far one of the best hobbies I have started. I made so many great friends and I learned a lot about good communication and teamwork. Somehow every class turns into exercise/physical therapy/emotional therapy/pure fun! Whenever I go home, I look forward to meeting up with some old friends and getting in an hour or two of play.
What do you think needs to happen for there to be more women in science and engineering?
Science and engineering are both considered male professions and for more women to enter these fields, the underlying assumption that men are inherently better at them needs to be taken away. Our gender does not predetermine our skills. To overcome this, I think everyone needs to learn about their internalized biases and make daily effort to overcome them. Little, ‘everyday’ sexism adds together to make a huge problem, and if we get rid of these small offenses, we lay the groundwork for women’s success.