Graduate student focusing on Microbiology and Immunology, and Reproductive Health at the School of Medicine.
Striving & Thriving at VCU talks to Nicole about how she got into the STEM field, what the most rewarding thing about being in the STEM field is, and what she misses about undergrad.
An interview with Nicole
What influenced you to choose a career in STEM?
Originally, when I was really young, I would bring home bugs in jars and I would do experiments in my dresser drawers. My mom would find them and be like “what are you doing?” Luckily my mom is very kind, and she is a teacher, so she would let me go to teaching stores and get science kits or even Legos and things like that to really hone my science passion. From there, in high school, I was still really excited about science and I thought for college I would like to pick a major that was in science. Originally I started off as a human nutrition major because I wanted to see how external factors affect health. It was there that I learned about gut microbiomes, so I switched my major to microbiology and I’ve been on the microbiology train ever since.
How has your mom being a teacher inspired you throughout your life?
My mom, she is retired now, but she was a first grade teacher. She was really integral in letting me hone certain skills and really discover things that I was good at. Also during that time I was able to volunteer at the elementary school and I volunteered all throughout high school and it was through there that I saw those light bulb moments that you tend to see in students when they are learning. That really triggered me to not only want to continue an academic career but also to help others that will come after me. I want to help bring them up and inspire them. So that’s another reason I’ve been involved in some of the COHD programs here at VCU to help undergraduate research students or even post-baccalaureate students find their next steps in the STEM career path.
What do you think is the most rewarding aspect of being in a STEM field?
The rewarding thing, especially being in a graduate school, I think would be that you are the person that is working on your topic. You are discovering things every day and that is really exciting that you get a chance to be the first person to ever know about a certain mechanism or a certain novel organism that hasn’t been discovered before. You get the chance to be at the forefront of novel discoveries.
What keeps your motivation and inspiration going for you?
I’m pretty optimistic. That said, I think working with undergraduate students and other students that are currently discovering science keeps me going. You get to see their initial spark when they first discover something or learn a new technique or tool. I feed off of their positivity. Also seeing my peers succeed, when they publish papers or other things like that. It really motivates me to want to keep up the momentum.
Is there anything that you miss about undergrad at all?
I went to Arizona State University (ASU). It was a very large public institution. One thing that I miss about that was that I was able to meet all sorts of people from all over the place that were coming to ASU. I had classes with engineers, I had classes with astronomy people, so that is one thing that I miss now being in grad school. You don’t get as many of those types of interactions. Luckily, in microbiome science, we do collaborate with clinicians, statisticians, and bioinformatics professionals. So I do still get to meet people in other fields it’s just less so.