Students Explore Stem Cells and the Many Career Paths of STEMNews
What’s so special about stem cells, and what kinds of careers can you have in this exciting field? This month, NYSCF hosted two events for students K-6 and 7-12 where curious young minds could learn from researchers and ask questions about stem cells, NYSCF’s work, and different career paths in STEM.
Making science education accessible to everyone has always been a central tenet of NYSCF’s mission. Events like these help lay the groundwork for a diverse and dedicated scientific workforce that will be necessary for finding lifesaving treatments and cures.
A Crash Course in Stem Cells and Biology
In a webinar for grades K-6, NYSCF scientists Dr. Dan Paull, Dr. Cecile Terrnoire, and Camille Fulmore shared all about what stem cells do, why they are important for understanding and curing disease, and other exciting biology lessons.
“At NYSCF, we’re interested in a special kind of cell called a stem cell. These cells can make every other cell in the body,” explained Dr. Paull. “So we can make brain cells, heart cells, skin cells, and so much more to study them in the lab and see why they start dysfunctioning in disease.”
“Stem cells are essentially avatars of different people because they give us a window to look inside a person’s brain, for example, where we wouldn’t normally be able to just pull out cells,” added Ms. Fulmore. “Stem cells can also help us discover medicines that are more likely to be safe and effective in humans. We can actually see if a medicine will have a positive or negative effect on a person before we put it in someone’s body.”
Dr. Terrenoire shared how the body uses electricity to function, and how this process can go awry in disease.
“We all have a ‘battery’ in our heart that helps it beat and one in our brain that helps us think,” she said. “You have electricity that goes from all parts of your body to your brain. If you’re listening to music or watching a movie, it’s electricity that sends the signal to your brain.”
“There are also circumstances where the electricity in your body can change,” she continued. “And that’s what happens when you have a brain or heart disease. So what we do is use stem cells to try to understand what causes these changes and how to fix them.”
Finally, Ms. Fulmore shared a few tips on how to pursue a career in science.
“Always stay in touch with your teachers,” she advised. “The connections that you make are so fundamental, and you’d be surprised at how small the science community really is and how supportive people are.”
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” she added. “Nobody’s perfect. And that’s honestly what science is – we embrace our mistakes. With every mistake, it’s an opportunity to learn.”
“Lastly, keep learning and stay curious. There’s no such thing as a dumb question in science. Asking questions is what it’s all about.”
Exploring Career Paths in STEM
In a webinar for grades 7-12, NYSCF’s Dr. Laura Andres-Martin, Dr. Raeka Aiyar, Jordan Goldberg, and Lauren Bauer discussed their careers in scientific research, communications, engineering, and project management and shared advice for finding your passion in STEM.
Dr. Aiyar oversees NYSCF’s scientific communications, and she got her start as a geneticist.
“I found in my PhD that what I really enjoyed doing was telling a good scientific story, and making sure that the people who would be interested in it would actually understand it and find it exciting,” she said.
She also stressed the importance of making connections as a student.
“I think what really helped me to get started on this career path was talking to my teachers and being vocal about my interests,” she recalled. “That’s something I would really encourage all of you to do, because then people are aware of what your interests are, and they can sometimes suggest opportunities for internships.”
Dr. Andres-Martin, who leads NYSCF’s cancer research, also received her PhD, and she credits academia as something that taught her to think critically and design experiments.
“I think the most valuable thing about my PhD was that it trained me to think about a problem and then look for the answers by designing experiments,” she remarked. “Even though I don’t spend as much time in the lab now as I did in my PhD, I’m still thinking about how we can resolve interesting scientific problems with new approaches.”
Mr. Goldberg is an engineer who works on the NYSCF Global Stem Cell Array® – our automated system for producing stem cells at a large scale. He recommends that those interested in science and engineering try to get as much lab experience as they can to figure out which path best suits them.
“Just getting yourself into a laboratory is really important,” he said. “And it doesn’t have to be in the exact role that you think you want to do for the rest of your life, but experiencing that environment is informative, and so is asking questions and being open to learning new things.”
Ms. Bauer also trained in biology, and now manages NYSCF’s research programs and collaborations.
“My job is project management,” said Ms. Bauer. “Having a science background and understanding stem cells is important for what I do, but I also have to be able to track projects, manage deliverables, and communicate with our collaborators and scientists.”
“It’s kind of interesting that all of our careers started out with a biology foundation, but have gone in different directions,” she remarked. “It just goes to show all of the different paths you can take in STEM.”