#STEMSPOTLIGHT: MEET SARAH

I met Sarah at the L’Oreal For Women in Science Ceremony where she was honored for her incredible contributions in STEM. Dr. Sarah Ballard is a Torres fellow in exoplanetary astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology! In addition to her research, Sarah co-founded a podcast series with fellow astrophysicist and best friend, Sarah RugheimerSelf-care with Drs.Sarah” to address issues faced by women in STEM careers and foster self-confidence. Sarah discovered four exoplanets turning 30, however, becoming an astrophysicist  was not Sarah’s career goal from the start. Check out Sarah’s interview to learn how she developed her passion for astronomy and her advice for girls in STEM! 

At the L’Oreal For Women in Science ceremony, we discussed how your science requirement at UC Berkeley led to your current career. What was that experience like?

I signed up to take astronomy in my freshman year at Berkeley because of the physical science breadth requirement! I thought at the time that it was a useless requirement for me, since I planned to major in Gender Studies or Peace and Conflict studies. The class was on the early side, 9 AM, so I would stumble sleepily out of the dorms and go. My interest starting building slowly, almost imperceptibly. I started never missing section (where a TA reviewed the weekly material) or office hours. And then one morning, something very unusual happened. It was a lecture Iike any other, and the professor was showing PowerPoint slides. He pointed at one slide and asked the class, “what do you think this is a picture of?” I’ll describe the image as I saw it then, without the years of astronomy training I’ve had since that morning. It looked like two cotton balls. One was bigger than the other one. In my mind, I guessed to myself “maybe it’s a star?” The professor said, “these are two elliptical galaxies. The smaller one is in orbit around the bigger one.” I realized two things at the same time, and I felt an electric thrill up my spine, and the little hairs on the back of my neck stood up. The first was that I was looking at this galaxy, comprising 100s of billions of stars, but even the *closest distance* between two neighboring stars was unfathomably, inhumanly big. Even the tiniest scale outstripped my imagination. And secondly, the same physical laws apply on the the largest possible scales. The same gravity that makes the moon orbit the Earth and the Earth orbit the Sun causes galaxies to orbit one another. 
But just like most women who pursue advanced degrees in STEM, I didn’t end up changing my major to astronomy because I necessarily thought I was good at it, or because I thought I could make a contribution (in contrast, these are reasons young men tend to self-report about why they pursued science). I did it, like most women, because people who mattered to me encouraged me to. I met with the professor, I met with the TA, and I met with an undergraduate advisor for the college. All three unequivocally supported my idea to change my major to astrophysics. My TA said, “you’re my best student.” But I agonized over the decision, because I was so uncertain about whether I’d be able to pass the tough physics and math courses, etc etc. In the counselor’s office, I was actually tearful because I was so agitated and confused. She asked me, “what does it *feel like* to do astronomy, Sarah?” I described printing out star charts to find planets outside my dorm, and looking forward to doing my homework. She said, “that’s what it’s supposed to feel like!” I’ll never forget those words. As I often say, there but for the grace of those three people go I! If I hadn’t received encouragement at that critical juncture, my professional life might have turned out extremely differently. 

How do you decompress after a long day at the lab?

Depends on my mood! If I’m feeling really disconnected from my more empathic, heartfelt side, I’ll spend some time singing and playing the guitar. If I feel really burned out, I’ll watch comedies on TV, or read Tumblr. If I feel lonely, I’ll take a book (I love to read fiction. No space stuff outside of wor) and go to a cafe, or hang out with a friend, paint our nails or whatnot. If I feel sad, I’ll make sure to make time to do at least half an hour of yoga (I like Yoga with Adriene’s YouTube channel) or listen to a comedy podcast (my favorite is Call Chelsea Peretti!). 

Describe your personal style in three words.

“Hip therapist aesthetic”, lol. I like very tailored, curated looks that also broadcast something empathic and approachable. Bronze hoop earring, some nicely fitting black capris, and an asymmetric sweater with koi swimming on it, for example. That’s what I wore when I celebrated my birthday party this year.


What advice do you have for girls pursuing STEM careers?

My advice is derived from what I know is more impactful (in peer-reviewed research) related to the retention of people in scientific trajectories, and also based on my own experience. First, find a mentor, or at least identify someone you can look at and think “I want to be like her.” Not only professionally, but personally too. Representation really matters. Second, value the things that you love about yourself *outside* of science, like your sense of humor, relationships with friends or family, etc. Research shows that, for women, reflecting on the things that matter to you creates a kind of buffer against the harmful cultural noise of negative stereotypes. Your funny, silly self is not different from your hard-working, scientifically accomplished self. It’s the same person, and the pieces work best when they work together. Third, trust your instincts. That’s not only STEM career advice, but advice about how to live a rich life. I think women, particularly women in historically (white) male spaces, feel invisible pressure to discount how they really feel about a situation, in favor of how they think they “should” feel. If you’re having a feeling about something, it’s for a reason. Feelings encode important information about a situation and your own state, and no good scientist disregards good data. 🙂 You’re the one who knows what’s best for you. 

What’s your go-to makeup look?

I like a subtle, natural look that makes me look glowy and awake (even if I haven’t had my coffee yet). Typically that means a nude/rose lipstick (I like Bobbi Brown’s Raisin), a nicely blended eyeshadow look with very subtle gradations across the lid (I love Shu Uemura’s eyeshadow palette, which a fellow women physicist recommended to me), and mascara. And a little bit of highlighter on my cheekbones, like the ones by Becca that they sell at Sephora. I could go on, because I love talking about makeup, but I’ll pump the brakes there. 

Do you have an ultimate career goal or major question you would like to answer within astrophysics?

Yes, I’d like to know whether anything about the dynamical history of a system of planets encodes anything about the individual atmospheres of their planets, or their habitability. Nature hides so many interesting links between things, and I suspect (but I don’t know yet!) that there will be a pattern of some kind between how systems of planets are sculpted and evolve, how suitable they are for life, and the types of molecules and hazes we will find in their atmospheres. That’s probably something I think we’ll know the answer to, at least in some form, in around 10 or 15 years. Come ask me then what the answer is!! 

photo provided by Sarah


Thanks for reading! Want to be featured in scistrut’s STEM spotlight series or know someone who would? Comment on this post, tweet me @autumngreco_ or send me a message on Instagram.
 

Why I’m participating in Khan Academy’s “Hour of Code” and why you should too…

Coding has become an essential skill in today’s modern society. Your favorite iPhone apps? Made with code. Zac Posen’s LED dress? Made with code. Coolest music beat? Made with code. Basically, most of the things we enjoy are made or affected by code. Well, what exactly is code? Coding or computer programming is the process of inputing a series of instructions to perform a certain task or solve a problem. Coding enables us to put our ideas to reality. Think about what you can achieve with code and join over millions of people for the first ever Computer Science Education Week.  Tag me on social media @autumngreco on instagram and @autumngreco_ on twitter when you share what you learned during your first time coding. I’m so excited to participate in Khan Academy’s exciting new program! 

 

photo by mashable.com

 
Xoxo

Autumn

TOP 5 QUOTES FROM #FEM20

 In honor of Feminist.com’s 20th Anniversary, the site hosted an empowering day-long conference to honor women’s leadership and empower the next generation of bold female voices. Thank you Girl Rising and the Harnisch Foundation for providing me with a scholarship to attend Feminist.com’s 20th Anniversary Event. I was inspired by so many incredible female leaders and below are the quotes that resonated with me the most:

“Just keep walking. Don’t become someone else.” – Dianne Cohler-Esses

“In the very worst moment, I found the treasure of my life.”- Chung Hyun Kyung discussing how her abduction during college led her to dive deeper in her faith and find her true passion.

“We have to learn how to dance with our differences … Not just coexist, but co-celebrate.” -Chung Hyun Kyung

“This is who I am and being who I am I have a lot to contribute to that narrative.” -Maria Ebrahimji

“Once you decide you’re willing to walk away from something, you’ve surmounted every obstacle after that.” -Maria Ebrahimji

Get it girl, because in the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take.

XOXO

Autumn

 

CODE GIRL MOVIE

The Code Girl film follows the journey of thousands of teen girls across the globe who are using computer science to positively impact their community. The film responds to the gender barrier plaguing the STEM field by highlighting the incredible accomplishments girls have made through coding. Girls from multifarious cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds come together for a coding competition known as the Technovation Challenge. Applications are currently available for the 2016 competition which encourages girls to identify a problem in their community, develop a mobile app solution,  build a business plan, and pitch their ideas to major technological influencers. Want to make an impact on the world with code and be inspired to be a female leader in STEM? View the inspiring film for free on YouTube now until November 5th!

#RallyForCODEGIRL

Photo by CodeGirl Film

Photo by CodeGirl Film

HAPPY HALLOWEEN SCISTRUTTERS! 

I had a blast filming the View  Halloween Spectacular! If you didn’t catch the episode yesterday on ABC, check out the clips on The View’s YouTube Channel! I felt honored to play the younger version of Michelle Collins, who is such an amazing role model for girls everywhere! Follow her on twitter for a daily laugh.

Here’s some #BTS pictures:

 

Michelle Collins

 
 

Stacy London

  

Photo by The View

 
XOXO 

What are you being for Halloween? Tag me on social media. I can’t wait to see your looks! 

L’Oreal For Women in Science Ceremony 2015

From left to right, Ming Yi, Julie Meyer, Claire Robertson, Sarah Ballard, Sarah Richardson, Katie Brenner, Sabrina Stierwalt, Autumn Greco

“We want to see more women as the face of science.” – Norah O’Donnell, co-host of CBS this morning. 

L’Oreal continues to strive to break the gender barrier facing STEM today. Only 26% of individuals in STEM are women. The L’Oreal fellowship program is in its 12th year and focuses not only on rewarding women conducting innovative, cutting-edge research, but also aims to inspire the next generation of female scientists through outreach opportunities. I am beyond honored to have attended last night’s inspiring ceremony. I was able to reunite with the friendly faces I met last year as well as meet the new fellows and attendees. One of the 2015 fellows, Sarah Ballard, hosts an empowering podcast ( which I could not stop listening to on the train!) for women in STEM! I will be interviewing Sarah for scistrut.com, so stay tuned! For now, check out the 2015 video on the L’Oreal USA website! 

I loved wearing the Rebecca Minkoff Collins dress from the fall 2015 runway; a true representation of scistrut.com! 

Thanks for reading 

Xoxo

Autumn 

#STEMSpotlight : Meet Christine 

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.
 

Photo courtesy of Christine

 
Xoxo

Thanks for reading! 

#MotivationMonday

Second edition of the #MotivationMonday series! Stayed tuned for a special post later this week! So excited to write about it! 

LISTENING TO 

“Keep an Eye on Me”, Frida Sundemo

 

photo by spotify

 
After watching  the heart-wrenching second episode of Grey’s Anatomy season 12, I had to find the entire song! The lyrics are so deeply felt and I’m a huge fan of Frida Sundemo’s vocals! I’ve been listening to this song NON-STOP. Besides from singing, Frida is a med student! How cool is that?!? A woman in STEM and music! Frida is definitely ruling the world in both fields. 

PRACTICING 

I did not practice yoga this week, but I have been running at track practice and practicing my implicit derivatives for AP Calculus BC. AP Calculus BC is definitely the most challenging AP course I have taken so far but the biggest piece of advice I have to all of my fellow and future course takers is to practice! Practice makes perfect, especially in calculus! Try to attend after school tutoring sessions if they are offered at your school! 

EATING
Tuna avacado, octopus/salmon speciality roll, and eel cucumber roll. SO DELICIOUS!    

MOTIVATIONAL QUOTE

  

  Xoxo 

Autumn 

#MotivationMonday

This is the first week of my #MotivationMonday series! Every Monday I’ll share what I have been listening to, practicing, and generally recap you on my week. So here’s my first edition of #MotivationMonday 

LISTENING TO

The First Lady’s Day of the Girl Playlist on Spotify

In honor of the Day of the Girl, Michelle Obama released a girls empowering playlist to raise awareness for girls education. The playlist features a mix of female legends ranging from BeyoncĂ© to Diana Ross. In response to her new movement in partnership with UNICEF’s global goals, I shared my #62MillionGirls post featuring my friend, Sydney Williams. Sydney and I both conducted cancer research over the summer. We filmed a cancer research video that will be released in December, so stay tuned! 

 

  
PRACTICING 

Besides from practicing my AP Calculus BC derivatives and chain rule, I practiced Y7 yoga with beauty, health, and fitness guru, Hannah Bronfman to celebrate the re- launch of the new hbfit.com ! It was my first time trying Y7 and I loved the relaxed studio atmosphere. I highly recommend it!  

 

MOTIVATIONAL QUOTE:

    
-Anonymous 

Xoxo, thanks for reading! Stay tuned for next week’s motivation Monday! 

 

Modern Boffin

I am so excited to announce my collaboration  with Modern Boffin! Modern Boffin is a new clothing line inspired by all things STEM! Mari, Modern Boffin Founder, is currently a doctoral candidate where her research interests include the retention and persistence of women and minorities in STEM education. Mari is increasing awareness for the need for underrepresented groups in STEM! Besides from creating super fashionable designs, Mari is donating a portion of her proceeds to STEM educational programs! She is a role model for girls everywhere pursuing careers in STEM. Check out modernboffin.com to shop the looks and follow @modernboffin on social media! I had so much fun shooting pieces from the collection.  

Astronaut Selfie Tee

This is my favorite shirt from  MB! I love how you can see the astronaut’s perspective.  
Love Tee

I styled this tee with a denim jacket. I love how Mari shaped the L with a space shuttle. 

 
Boffin Definition Tee 

This tee is the ultimate MB tee! A Boffin is a scientist, engineer, or other person engaged in technical or scientific work. 

    

  Xoxo

Thank you so much Mari and Modern Boffin for letting me collaborate!