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#STEMStories: Rebecca, Research Tech and Fiber Artist, USA

#STEMStories: Rebecca, Research Tech and Fiber Artist, USA

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

My name is Rebecca Hayes. I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in August 2018 with a B.S in Biological Sciences with a Chemistry Minor and have been working there since as a research technician in the Ashman Lab. I worked on developing an undergraduate level lab curriculum that explores the floral microbiome and flower UV patterns that has been taken by hundreds of students already, as well as conducting independent research during the pilot study. I am also currently interning with the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, PA in their Conservation Education Program. There I assist in writing informal educational programming for all ages, creating educational games and crafts for special events, and spend time telling visitors all about the amazing birds that live there.

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

As a kid, my mom loved to do diy science experiments in our kitchen with me and my sister, which I think inspired my love for sciences throughout school. When I was around 6, apparently I told my parents that I wanted to be a “discoverer” when I grew up, so I think research was a natural path for me. It was always my favorite subject, so I was excited to study biology in college. I learned I loved plants through taking care of lots of houseplants in my college dorm room, but have always had a fascination with birds since I was really young.

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

For my research job, it’s definitely the thrill of each day being something new. Throughout college, I spent my weekends waitressing at a diner and felt that the days would blur together with the only change being new breakfast specials. Working in research, however, always provides new opportunities for discovery, new techniques to learn, and new collaborations to foster. For my education internship, it’s the chance to inspire the public to ignite their own passion for science and nature. Having sincere one-on-one interactions helps people change their minds more than cold-hard facts alone even if it’s the same information, so getting to talk to people about important conservation ideas and actions feels like I can really make a change.

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

I love to craft when I’m most stressed. I’ve been doing embroidery since I was a freshman in high school, and I still work on projects several times a week. The repetitive motions are great to take my mind off of things that are bothering me, and it’s awesome to be able to have a beautiful end product especially when experiments aren’t working or I’m experiencing writer’s block and feel like I’ll never be able to finish anything.

As far as raising my spirits in times of doubt, I always hang on to papers and project rubrics that I scored a good grade on to look at when I feel inadequate and remind myself of past success. Also, I always keep an updated resume so I can see on paper all of my accomplishments.

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

Rachel Carson. She trained as a biologist in Pittsburgh and later started an environmental movement against the use of the pesticide DDT after writing Silent Spring that was the driving force in saving countless species from extinction. She proves that a single dedicated person can change the world, no matter how unlikely.

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

Don’t sell yourself short. Throughout high school and even into my early college years my fear of failure or not being good enough kept me from applying to competitive programs and grants. Now, I realize that there’s no reason I couldn’t be chosen for something prestigious and it doesn’t hurt to apply and give it a shot.

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

  1. Apply for anything you’re interested in, no matter the odds.
  2. Ask questions often. There is no such thing as a stupid question; asking questions means that you want to learn and that reflects greatly on you as a scientist.
  3. Don’t feel like you have to fit a certain stereotype to make it in STEM. Every kind of person can be a scientist and still find success.

8. How do you measure your success?

I measure my success through the new things and skills that I learn. I feel lucky to be in the field that I’m in because there are infinite opportunities for learning.

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

I write about plant science for Plantae.org under username Rah107. I also write, host, and produce a plant science podcast called Stories Plantarum about fabulous fictional flora from sci-fi and fantasy and real life plants that seem out of this world. You can listen on soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify.

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

Follow my twitter account @BigGirlPlants