In continuation of a special series of interviews with scientists and researchers in STEM fields, I am delighted to introduce Rebekah, a Chemical Engineer. “One thing our lab enjoys doing is sitting around our conference table and drinking coffee out of the french press while chatting about whatever phenomena is plaguing the internet at the moment,” says Rebekah, a Research Assistant in an Analytical Chemistry lab at Vanderbilt University.
Lab meetings often involve lab research staff, undergraduate researchers, graduate students and the principle investigator sitting around a conference table – the setting is not much different from a business meeting, but the atmosphere is usually less formal. It’s a place where students give practice talks for an upcoming conference, research updates to their colleagues to maintain an atmosphere of transparency about research progress or to get feedback on how to troubleshoot an experiment that’s not working, or review a newly published article relevant to their lab’s research. It’s also a moment to gather with your colleagues, often over snacks and coffee, and sometimes before or after lab meeting, an opportunity for bonding and conversing about life outside of lab, like Rebekah described.
Rebekah completed a B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Columbia University with a focus in environmental protection and sustainable development. She is currently working in a lab she describes as “an analytical chemistry lab turned optics and engineering lab.” In this interdisciplinary research environment, Rebekah is able to draw on her training in engineering and background in chemistry to help the lab build a bench-top device that has the “potential to provide low-cost early diagnostics for people with cancer (in addition to help elucidate) mechanisms of action studies for the way drugs interact with each other.” On a typical day in the lab, Rebekah says that she and her colleagues juggle multiple projects at once. “I’ll begin my day mixing up every assay (specialized analytical test) I need, and then I’ll proceed to prep the instrument (that I constructed from the ground up!) for the assays. I’ll usually end my day by extracting the data from our interface and making some sort of observation. If there isn’t much contract work to do, I’m figuring out ways to optimize my device and plan for the next design iteration.”
Rebekah also has experience taking her education outside of the classroom and research lab into the community. During college, she participated in science outreach and communication at underserved schools in Manhattan where she volunteered as a peer health educator. “I taught various health topics such as sexual decision making and the biochemistry behind drug abuse,” says Rebekah. When asked about how she became interested in science, Rebekah says that she “can’t really pinpoint a specific moment, (but) credits the freedom she had in constructing (her) academic schedule in high-school.” “I realized all of my classes were rooted in either science or the performing arts,” says Rebekah. While she chose a STEM major, she continued and still continues to cultivate her interest in the performing arts.
Outside of her studies, researching in lab, and volunteering, Rebekah loves to sing. “It’s something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been a part of a band/team. It keeps me from being too ‘sciencey.’” Like many scientists and STEM researchers, Rebekah is a multi-tasker, balancing her lab work with her love for music by serving on the worship team at her church. She will be featured on her church’s upcoming live-recording.
When asked to describe her relationship with coffee outside of the french-pressed coffee she and her lab mates share at the conference table, Rebekah says, “I love the stuff. I’ve never been a coffee snob and I couldn’t tell you where the beans originate from or the perfect extraction temperature, but it sure is a gift from God.” Coffebeingsandthings could not agree more with Rebekah – coffee is a gift, for which we are grateful.
Editors Redaction (4/2/17): Previously the article stated that Rebekah was featured on the new single “All Power,” however this was incorrect on the part of our editor. This has been revised to state that Rebekah will be featured on her church’s upcoming live video recording.
Rebekah’s church recently released the new single “All Power,” and a free download is available here.