Before They Were Scientists: Monica Peters

When I first met New Zealand native and science/artist Monica Peters, she was attending the Citizen Science Association meeting in San Jose, California. After her presentation she boldly stated, “Watch this space!” in reference to the growing citizen science initiatives in New Zealand. It was intriguing to learn about the efforts of citizen scientists in New Zealand communities to preserve their local natural habitats. She also stated that she had come from a design background, but has found herself in this scientific world. Wanting to hear more, I scheduled an interview and we got a chance to speak about […]

By | March 6th, 2015|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Mette Olufsen

Dr. Mette Olufsen found mathematics very easy in middle school and had an interest in biology. Yet, she never predicted that she would grow up to become a biomathematician, working in an interdisciplinary field that uses math to solve big biological questions. She describes a middle school experience that is very typical of Denmark in the 1970s: very free and focused on the importance of play and project-based learning, picking up three foreign languages, and adhering to the Jante Law.

Where were you in middle school?

I was in Denmark. We didn’t have middle school. We just had elementary school and […]

By | February 20th, 2015|Before They Were Scientists, Education|1 Comment

Before They Were Scientists: Mariano Vázquez

I recently interviewed physicist Mariano Vázquez. From his office in Barcelona, Spain, Mariano told me about the supercomputer encased in a crystal box located in a century old church a few hundred meters away from him. Read on as this Argentina native recounts how his time spent traveling around the world in a merchant ship with his family, the giant map on his childhood bedroom wall, and the invention of his own term for “scientist” all ultimately led him to a life of inquiry.

Lea: I’m excited to include your story in this series.

Mariano: I don’t know if it is going […]

By | January 30th, 2015|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Emily Graslie

In addition to interviewing traditionally trained scientists, I sometimes get the opportunity to interview the science communicators that help translate what happens in the lab to the rest of the world. Today’s interview is with the incredible science communicator, Emily Graslie. You may recognize her from her wildly popular YouTube series, The Brain Scoop, now based at The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. Before we started our interview, with me in Raleigh and Emily in Chicago, we took note of our surroundings. Behind Emily were some familiar surrounds seen in many of her videos. We both clutch our coffee mugs […]

By | January 16th, 2015|Before They Were Scientists, Education|4 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Holly Menninger

Not every scientist got their inspiration from their science classes — in fact many have gleaned inspiration from museums, family trips or extracurricular opportunities that they had when they were younger. Dr. Holly Menninger got her start in science communication speaking to groups of visitors at the Cincinnati Museum Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. While sitting down to talk to her about middle school, I noted a subtle Midwestern accent emerged as she excitedly described her experiences and reflected on time spent with her family and important mentors.

Lea: Tell me about your middle school setup to get us started.

Holly: I […]

By | January 9th, 2015|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Corrie Moreau

Corrie Moreau grew up a city kid in the South. In middle school, she was on the dance team and marched in Mardi Gras parades while looking for ants in the cracks of the sidewalk outside her apartment. Read on to learn how she took her childhood love of ants and turned it into her full-time career, how she engages girls in science at The Field Museum and how her parents fostered confidence and creativity in her from a young age onward.

Lea: Where were you in middle school?

Corrie: I grew up in Louisiana. For me, the most awesome part […]

By | December 12th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|1 Comment

Before They Were Scientists: Chris Schell

While interviewing scientists about their middle school lives, I often encounter a recurring them: scientists didn’t realize until they were much older that they could spend their lives researching something that fascinated them as a kid. They perceived the job of “scientist” as something held by dead and gone people from decades before. My hope is that these interviews serve as inspiration for students who would otherwise struggle to see themselves in the scientific field.

Today’s interview is with Chris Schell, a PhD candidate in evolutionary biology, who has already accomplished a lot in his early academic career. In middle […]

By | December 5th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Randy Woodson

When I learned that North Carolina State University had a scientist as our Chancellor I made it my personal goal to tell his middle school story. Finally, after a year of conducting Before They Were Scientists interviews, I had my chance. I recently sat down with Chancellor Randy Woodson in his office overlooking the iconic NCSU Bell Tower. He started our conversation by opening a three-ring-binder and flipping through the exhaustive list of questions I had sent the week before to help him prepare, “I went through all the questions and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m […]

By | October 24th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|6 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Doug Emlen

I recently sat down with evolutionary biologist Dr. Doug Emlen when he was in town to give a seminar at NC State. We met at the Hunt Library, and after testing out a few of their famous chairs, we settled in for an interview that took us around the world. Read on to learn how Doug spent the first six months of sixth grade in Kenya with his dad studying birds, got singled out in science class and learned early on in his academic career that he would never be Indiana Jones.

Lea: We’re thinking about middle school — what’s […]

By | October 17th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|1 Comment

Before They Were Scientists: Jonathan Bujak

Dr. Jonathan Bujak (on the right in the photo above) had a reputation for causing trouble, one that started on his first day of school. Read on to learn how doing a little better in chemistry helped him survive the 1960s, how chance played a very special role in his life, and how finding a fern in an Arctic ocean sediment core completely changed the trajectory of his career.

Lea: How about you tell me a little bit about where you were in middle school between the ages of 10 and 14?

Jonathan: I was in a town called Blackpool, a […]

By | October 10th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|3 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Anne Madden

Interviewing Anne Madden was both enlightening and entertaining, I’ve never before wished that a recorder would break so I could repeat an interview — it was that much fun. Anne is a postdoctoral researcher — an early career scientist — and yet her life experiences and work in industry prior to graduate school have given her a very nuanced and intriguing perspective on science. Read on to learn about how her clinically diagnosed phobia of middle school did not stop her from achieving academic success, how the artist and the scientist are almost indistinguishable, and how high heels and […]

By | October 3rd, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|2 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Julie Hecht

Julie Hecht began our interview by admitting she was nervous because, to her, middle school was horribly awkward. I assured her that she would never have to go back, but just had to share a few memories with me. Our interview, punctuated by lots of laughter, reinforced that even if you’re not into science as a middle school student, it doesn’t mean that you won’t end up a scientist. Learn how she eventually found her way into researching human’s best friend after being obsessed with Archie Comics, her dead end (pun intended, wait for it) career as a thespian, […]

By | September 26th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|1 Comment

Before They Were Scientists: Jelena Vuckovic

On our next stop for the “Before They Were Scientists” world tour, I sat down with Jelena Vuckovic, who spends part of her year in Germany and the other part at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Read on to learn about her experiences as a middle school student in the former Yugoslavia where she played with Legos, almost became a French teacher, and was never told it was unique for a girl to love physics.

Lea: Can you tell me what comes to mind when you think about middle school?

Jelena: I have a six-year-old daughter now and when I think back to […]

By | September 19th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Daniel Solomon

Sitting down with Daniel Solomon, dean of the NC State College of Sciences, to talk about his middle school life was certainly a highpoint for the “Before They Were Scientists” series. In this interview Dean Solomon opened up about how his life as a child in the Bronx allowed him to appreciate a diverse learning environment, how he got in trouble trying to escape the island he lived on in Florida, and how his parents’ drive for him to go to medical school shaped so much of his young life.

Lea: Where were you in middle school? 

Daniel: In […]

By | September 15th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Emilie Rissman

It was an honor to chat with biologist Dr. Emilie Rissman before she officially assumes the role of department head for the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Sciences here at at NC State University. My M.O., of course, was to learn about her life as a middle school student and what it was about her particular experiences back then that brought her to where she is today. Read on to learn how her middle school years spanned very different experiences in Chicago and northern California, how she is decidedly unlike her artist father, and how she has […]

By | September 5th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|1 Comment