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#STEMStories: Danielle, Field Scientist, Ghana

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do? 

My name is Danielle Twum and I am from Ghana, West Africa. I currently work as a field scientist for LevitasBio, a startup in the biotechnology field. My job allows me to work with people from many backgrounds, learning ways to combine their research with our technology at LevitasBio. I use a small device and a powerful magnet to separate large and small cells from each other, also known as magnetic levitation for cell sorting. I know, it’s wild!

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

I stumbled into research accidentally in college, studying coral bleaching in sea anemones (you know, where Nemo lives). I pivoted into cancer research because I unfortunately lost an uncle to brain cancer when he was in his mid-30s ( I was about 7-9 years at the time) and I always wanted to understand the disease that killed him. He and I shared a birthday. It was because of Uncle Kofi that I applied to Roswell Park for their summer program and I was admitted into their doctoral program after. I wanted to apply both scientific and transferable skills acquired in graduate school in the next phase of my journey which is why I applied to work at a startup and here I am.

I wanted to be a medical doctor when I was younger and then a pilot and then an astronaut. I could have never dreamed this career path for myself and I think that’s what makes all this so exciting!

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

For me, watching our product get better with time and knowing that I have contributed to the production process. And also, hoping that each day might be the day I get to scream ‘Eureka!’. Shoutout to Archimedes! 

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

This is going to sound crazy but I document everything: every win, every loss and even the blah moments. I have so many pictures of many moments in my life. So when I start to doubt myself, I pull up pictures and remind myself of how far I’ve come. I sit in the moment and reminisce, drawing strength from the past. When I am feeling more centered, then I put pen to paper and start planning for the future.

I also draw strength from those who have come before me. Those who have walked and run so I can fly. Shoutout to all the Hidden Figures! 

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

My role model is my maternal grandmother. I believe she stopped going to school after middle school. Even though she had minimal education, she ensured that all her children and grandchildren were educated past the point where stopped. She pushed us to be the best academically and wouldn’t settle for any less. I will forever be sad that she could not see me graduate with my doctorate but I like to think she’s watching me from the afterlife, proud of me.

I also hope to be a role model to other young girls who want to go into STEM careers. I am part of this amazing initiative known as the If/Then Initiative where women in various STEM careers are working to increase visibility of women in STEM roles and also to be role models to young girls. So check out https://www.ifthenshecan.org/ambassadors/ for 125 STEM women who can be role models to young girls wanting to go into STEM careers.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time? 

I would tell myself not to sweat the little things. It’s really easy to say that in hindsight, for sure. But I’d like to tell the younger version of myself to not be scared of the path she was going on and that everything was going to work out in the end. I had so much anxiety about where I was going because the path was not always clear. However, I have learnt that where there is no path, blaze one!

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  1. Stay curious!
  2. Do not accept any disrespect.
  3. You belong here.

8. How do you measure your success? 

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” - Maya Angelou

9. Where can we find out more about your work? 

I currently work for a startup that uses magnetic levitation to sort cells so you can find out more about what we do at www.levitasbio.com. My doctoral work has been published and can be found here: https://insight.jci.org/articles/view/124267

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

My Twitter and Instagram handle is: @forgedonyx.

My LinkedIn profile is: linkedin.com/in/danielletwum

Please feel free to reach out!