STEM Moms: Meet Taylor

In honor of the women who fed and housed us before we were even born, we are turning Mother’s Day into Mother’s Week! For the rest of the week we will be posting about the amazing women at SBU who research all day and raise children all night. Our first STEM Mom is Taylor Medwig-Kinney, whose research on cell fate determination and development can help humans better understand evolution and how disease affects development.

Taylor with a sign that shows Rosie the Riveter holding a pipette, with the words "Women in Science, we grab by the pipette" surrounding it.
Taylor with the poster she made for the inaugural March for Science, held in Washington, D.C. in 2017.

EDUCATION: B.S. in Biology (Developmental Genetics) and B.S. in Health Science (Public Health and Community Health Education) from Stony Brook University; 3rd-year Ph.D. student in Genetics at Stony Brook University; Graduate Research Assistant in the Matus Laboratory

RESEARCH: I am broadly interested in the intersection of animal development, cell biology, and genetics. My current research entails using the nematode C. elegans as a model system to better understand how cells adopt their fates and execute specialized behaviors during development.

FUTURE GOALS: My future goals include pursuing a tenure-track position at an R1 institution and establish my own research group.

What or who got you interested in your field?

I first developed my passion for scientific inquiry by participating in my high school’s Science and Technology Research Program. Through this program, coordinated by Ms. Maria Zeitlin, I learned how to review scientific literature, formulate hypotheses and design experiments, as well as communicate science. Most importantly, however, I was trained to think critically. I am so grateful to Ms. Zeitlin for providing me with this foundation for my scientific training. She and I remain in touch to this day and I actually mentored one of her students over the past two summers!

When did you know you were interested in pursuing a degree in science?

I didn’t always plan on becoming a scientist. In elementary school, I dreamed of becoming an artist, and in middle school, I wanted to be a lawyer. It wasn’t until high school that I fell in love with science (specifically biology and physics). Looking back, pursuing a career in science has allowed me to combine both creativity and logical reasoning.

What do you think needs to happen for there to be more women in science?

I believe that female role models are so important for recruiting and retaining women in science. As a woman, it can be easy to feel like you don’t belong when you are surrounded by men in the workplace. I do my part by mentoring female high school and undergraduate students, but I think that representation of women in faculty positions is even more important. I also feel strongly that men (not just women) need to stand up to instances of sexism, whether blatant or subtle.

Taylor and her mentor, smiling in front of a poster.
Taylor with her high school mentee, Sydney Bracht, in front of her mentee’s poster at a high school’s research symposium.

How do you think that society can be more supportive and less discriminatory of mothers and would be mothers in the workplace?

I think that society should be more understanding of the struggles of working mothers. Taking care of young children is a full-time job in and of itself. Add in sleep deprivation, and those first few weeks or months back at work can be very stressful! Expecting new mothers to immediately return to the performance level of their peers who are not parents simply isn’t fair, in my opinion.

What have you found the most challenging about being pregnant and working in science?

The most challenging part was definitely the fatigue. Growing a human is exhausting! I’m pretty sure that I fell asleep at my lab bench once or twice. The heightened sense of smell during pregnancy definitely affected me too. A whiff of old E. coli plates would send me running to the barf bin. Fortunately, my labmates were so supportive and helped me with tasks such as lifting heavy objects and picking up things I dropped on the floor.

Has becoming a mother changed your work experiences or how you feel about your work/academia?

As a mother, I don’t always have the flexibility to work late if an experiment is running behind schedule. It’s hard to feel like a good scientist and a good mother when you have to compromise the time you spend in lab and the time you spend at home. Since becoming a mother, I have had to improve my organizational and time management skills in order to be most productive. I’ve also learned that it’s okay to ask for help from others when you need it.

Do you have a functioning support system that you find yourself often relying on?

My husband is my rock. I’m also very fortunate to have the support of friends and family, especially my mother, who takes care of my son while I’m working.

Photo of Taylor and her husband, Dr.  Brian Kinney, holding onto their son, Jackson.
Taylor with her husband, Dr. Brian Kinney, who had just earned his Ph.D., and their son, Jackson.

What university or community resources have you used during pregnancy and after?

I took advantage of the Stony Brook Childbirth Accommodation Policy (SB-CAP) which allowed me to maintain full-time student status (and thus my stipend and health insurance) during my twelve weeks of maternity leave, plus granted me a one-semester extension of any graduate program requirements (for me, this meant delaying my thesis proposal).

Do you have any tips or advice for anyone that wants to start a family in academia? Is there anything you wish you knew before becoming a mom?

I’ve learned that there is no “right time” to have a child when pursuing a career in academia, except maybe post-tenure, at which point women face higher risks of infertility and pregnancy complications. Therefore, my advice to those thinking about starting a family is to do so whenever feels right for them. I would also recommend trying to find a P.I. and/or department that is supportive of mothers. The transition back to work is definitely a learning period, and having a supportive environment during this time is really important. One thing that I wish I knew is not to expect to get much work done while on maternity leave.  I naively thought that I would be able to prepare a fellowship application during the 12 weeks I was home. I didn’t realize just how demanding it is to take care of a newborn while still recovering myself.

Photo of a group of women in a classrom, smiling for the camera
Taylor with Stony Brook undergraduate students from the WISE program that she hosted in lab as part of their “Research and Discovery in STEM” course.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE…

Taylor will be joining a group of social STEM Moms who plan to meet once a month or so. Are you a STEM mom? Are you interested? Then fill out THIS form to let us know who you are and what you would like to do in these meetings.

Happy Mothers Week everyone!

Author: sbugwise

We are the Graduate Women in Science and Engineering group at Stony Brook University and we are dedicated to supporting women in STEM fields.

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