Hi everyone! I’m thrilled to announce that I am launching a new #STEMSpotlight feature where I highlight the lives of incredibly inspiring women rocking the field. I’m kicking off my #STEMSpotlight series with Christine T. Schwall who is one of the most stylish biochemists out there!
Christine- A self-proclaimed “science geek meets fashionista foodie” who is best known for her sweet and bubbly personality and trendy style.
How did you know you wanted to become a scientist?
I have always been interested in science- I loved the biology and chemistry classes that I took in high school and I also completed a three year research program in high school that introduced me to the basics of designing and completing experiments as well as writing up research papers and presenting results. This drove me to become a biology major (with chemistry and sociology minors) in college and my passion for science and completing research only grew from there. I love to understand how diseases develop and the processes behind how anything works, especially the human body. I think I was pushed even more towards science because my brother was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes when he was in third grade and I was in sixth grade; I wanted to find a cure and help people living with this disease. The desire to help people was strengthened when my father was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia and passed away during my sophomore year in college. I love that scientists are pushing research forward, finding cures, and making differences. They may work behind the scenes, but they are making amazing discoveries and I wanted to be a part of that.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your PhD?
I think that the biggest challenge was staying motivated throughout the entire process. For most science-based PhD programs, it takes 5-7 years to obtain your PhD (I received mine in 5 years). After being in an undergraduate program for 4 years, it is hard to not become burnt out as the process continues (at minimum that is 9 years of continuously being in school). It is also challenging to stay motivated when you are planning and executing experiments and they either do not work or the results are not what you are anticipating. It can become very frustrating very quickly, which definitely makes a lot of people re-think continuing in their program. However, I was very fortunate to have some greatly supportive colleagues and we would have trouble-shooting meetings and social outings to keep morale up and our research moving in the right direction.
How do you prepare for a lab meeting, presentation, or research symposium?
I think that the answer to this question definitely varies from person-to-person, but I like to prepare the presentation or poster as far in advance as possible. That way, I can read through it and practice it in front of other people (or in my own head) and you become more comfortable with the material and what you want to say. One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received for preparing an oral presentation is to write out explicitly what you want to say (word-for-word) for the first couple of slides. This is because you tend to be nervous at the start of the presentation, before you “get into your groove,” and it helps to have these first few slides memorized cold so that you can go into the presentation feeling confident and knock it out of the park! For a poster-based presentation, I like to print out my poster on one sheet of paper and look over it often, trying to anticipate the types of questions that people will ask me. Also, this is not really preparation advice, but during a poster session I love to ask people their backgrounds before I begin the “presentation” so that I can try to tailor my talk to what they will find most interesting and so that I do not focus on background information with which they are probably already familiar.
What’s your favorite fashion accessory?
Ah, this is such a hard question- how can I just pick one? Do handbags count? I definitely have a bag obsession and am always searching for my next go-to bag. My all-time favorite bag is a slouchy Michael Kors handbag in a gold snakeskin print; it is the perfect accessory to glam-up any look and it is my go-to weekend bag (and I have had it for about 4 years!). That said, right now I am loving the backpack trend and just bought a super adorable backpack made with gray felt and black shearling and faux- leather accents from the Adam Lippes for Target collection that just came out!
If you could go back in time to give your 16-year-old self advice, what would it be?
I would definitely tell her to speak up, be herself, and don’t be afraid of what other people think. I was painfully shy as a child and only started to find myself and grow into my personality later in high school. At that point, everyone with who I had grown up knew me as the “shy, smart” girl and it was hard to break out of that shell and become the more outgoing person that I am today. I wish I had allowed myself to grow and share my true self with others at a younger age, but I am glad I had supportive friends in college who completely allowed me to grow into the person I am today! I want all girls, no matter their age, to dream big and follow those dreams; make them a reality. At the same time, don’t let other people peg you as something you are not and always allow yourself to take the path that may seem “off course.” Be open to opportunity and see where life takes you! As long as you make sure to always be true to yourself, everything else will fall into place.
Thanks for reading!