Grad Moms: Meet Kelly

In our second week of celebrating moms, say hello to Kelly, a PhD candidate in the Genetics program and mother of one!

EDUCATION: B.S. in Biology from Barry University; currently pursing a Ph.D. in Genetics

RESEARCH: Studies the temporal and spatial regulation of the C. elegans miRNA, lin-4

Who got you interested in your field? Is there a story involved?

My undergraduate genetics professor.  I originally wanted to pursue a career in medicine, during a lecture on cancer genetics she talked about how a better understanding of genetics would revolutionize the medical field, but that a better understanding of what happens normally is critical for understanding what goes wrong in the context of diseases.  She later offered me a spot in her lab.  

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

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to do something in a science field.  I grew up on a farm, so I was always surrounded by the natural world.  As a young child I would tell my parents that I wanted to be an earthworm vet, now I use microscopic earthworms as a model organism so not too far!

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

STEM education needs to start young.  There is a lot of pressure on women in science to live with the “publish or perish” culture while also having a family.  There needs to be more support in place for women who do want to do both, but also less social pressures for women who don’t.  

Have you had any experiences as a woman in STEM that you’d like to share?

Probably one of the scariest things in graduate school I have had to do was tell my PI that I was pregnant. To my surprise, he was extremely supportive.  We worked together to make a plan for getting as much done as possible before I went on maternity leave, what was going to be done while I was on maternity leave by other members in my lab, and then what I was going to be doing once I returned.  Because he had kids himself, he is very understanding of the struggles that I have while trying to be both a PhD student as well as a mom and supports me in every way that he can. 

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

Yes, since becoming a mom I have reevaluated what it is I want out of my career.  I originally wanted to get a tenure track position and open my own lab, but after having my daughter, Thea, I realized that the work-life balance that I wanted wasn’t going to be easily achieved with a career like that.  

Thea, washing dishes with dad in a Busy Toddlers inspired activity.

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

At Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory they have a healthy pregnancy program through the wellness center which I used during my pregnancy.  I also use their on campus lactation rooms as well as the daycare center.  For community resources, I have been fairly active with my areas La Leche League.

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?

There’s no perfect time to start a family.  As long as you feel like you’re ready, do it.  If you know that it’s something you want to do, before choosing a PI make sure that they would be supportive of it.  I wish I knew more about my rights as a breastfeeding mom after I had my daughter.  I would definitely recommend talking directly to HR about what their policies are and what accommodations they have.  

How has the COVID quarantine affected your daily work towards your dissertation? (Can you work from home or do you go to your research lab at a set time while respecting social distancing?)

I still go to the lab, I coordinate with the other members of the lab to make sure that there are only 2 of us MAX in at a time.  If anything I think the quarantine has actually been helpful as it’s given my PI and myself time to really prioritize experiments, go through what we have done and what still needs to get done and come up with a list of the things that are really needed to be completed for my dissertation.  It has also forced me to write more, which in writing I have found some experiments that still need to be done as well and I would much rather find them now rather than when I’m actually trying to submit my dissertation.  

Thea wandering through the woods near our house.

Are there any virtual resources you and your child love that you can share with readers?

I love the play preschool Busy Toddler and all of the activities that she posts on instagram.  We also do The Little Gym classes virtually and Cosmic Kids Yoga on youtube.  Lakeshore Learning has some online resources as well.

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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