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#STEMStories: Dr. Justyna, Environmental Scientist, USA and Poland

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

My name is Dr. Justyna Hampel and I am a biogeochemist and microbial ecologist. I study cycling of nitrogen in lakes and estuaries and toxic algal blooms. For my PhD work I got to work on lakes in China, Florida, and Ohio. I grew up in Poland and came to the US for my undergrad and PhD. In May, I will be starting a postdoctoral research position in marine science studying microbial communities in the Gulf of Mexico. I am interested in looking at microbial communities and biodiversity in marine sediments and shipwrecks, and how these microbes interact with the natural and artificial environments.

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 have always been interested in science however, growing up in Poland, I didn’t know that being a scientist was something I can actually do for a living. I went to college on a swimming scholarship, after being a competitive swimmer for 12 years, and I had very few ideas on what to do once my swimming career was over. It wasn’t until my senior year of undergrad when I started volunteering in an environmental chemistry lab and realized that research was something I really wanted to pursue. It is never too late!

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

My job is my passion, and I really love what I do. Being curious and the pursue of knowledge is what keeps me going every day! But, as with everything in life, there are better and worse days. What I love most about my job, is that it is very interdisciplinary. It includes lab work, field work and sampling, computer analysis, teaching, writing, and reading. When I feel tired of working in the lab, I can work on writing or computer analysis, and vice versa. The flexibility associated with my job keeps me productive and involved!

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

In times of stress it is crucial to have a good support system. For me, it is my family, my mentors, friends, partner, and colleagues at work who have been really amazing and able to raise my spirits when I’m down. Whether it’s a failed experiment, funding rejections, bad paper reviews, a supportive community is very important! And when someone else is going through stressful times, I try to “give back” and be the support system for that person.

Other than being surrounded by awesome people, when I’m stressed, I like to step away from work and do something fun: go to the movies, go on a mini road trip, binge watch Netflix :)

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

I have many role models! In science, it is my PhD advisor Dr. Silvia Newell and all the great, inspiring female scientists I got to work with throughout my journey.

Being from Poland, I have to say that Marie Skladowska-Curie has been an inspiration to me since I was a little girl. She was a true Woman in STEM pioneer! I also admire Greta Thunberg; you are never too young to fight for the planet and our future.

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

I would tell my younger self to be patient because all the hard work will pay off eventually!

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

  1. Do something that truly makes you happy and inspired.
  2. Don’t give up on your dreams. Don’t get discouraged when someone tells you that you can’t do something, or you are not good enough.
  3. Have a mentor who can help you get started and guide you through. This is important at any level of your education or career.

8. How do you measure your success?

To me being successful is being able to apply my research to current environmental issues, contribute to solutions, and communicate science to the public. It is also important to celebrate all victories and achievements, no matter how small, and look at how much I have accomplished and how far I’ve come as a scientist.

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

I have a website: aquaticmicrobes.com

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

I am on Twitter: @Just_AquaticN