Protein Modelling and Yoga? - Meet Brooke!
Where did you grow up?
Connecticut, about 2 hours from New York City.
What was your childhood like?
My parents were and continue to be very supportive but didn't have an understanding of academic opportunities beyond a Bachelor's degree. In order to pursue a PhD, I had to learn a lot of things that it seemed the people around me already knew.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Before I realised that computers did most of the work, I wanted to be an air traffic controller. I thought I would be really good at organising where all the planes should be.
What do you do now?
Right now I am pursuing a PhD in Chemistry at Stanford University. My research focuses on describing computer simulations of protein motion. Proteins are molecules that perform nearly every function in the body, but they are too tiny to observe with a microscope. Therefore we simulate them in order to see what they are doing in detail. These simulations are enormous data-sets that require mathematics and statistics to analyse, and I work on those analysis methods.
What drew you to this field?
I pursued STEM because I wanted to have job options. I chose to study chemistry instead of mathematics because I was more excited by the applications to medicine, materials, and energy.
What educational preparation did you have to do?
I completed chemistry and mathematics majors in undergrad, and I also did a year of research in an academic lab and a yearlong MPhil degree at Cambridge before starting my PhD. I did not know what research was in undergrad and so I did not actually start doing chemistry research until after I earned my Bachelor's. I also have self-taught a lot of computer science.
How did/do you fund your studies?
Natural science programs in the US typically fund PhD students, so I am currently funded by Stanford. For my MPhil, I was fortunate to be funded by the Gates Cambridge Scholarship program.
What is a typical working day like?
As a computational chemist I can mostly work on my own schedule. I usually work on my laptop for a few hours in the morning, and then take a long lunch break where I may exercise or cook or meet a friend. Then I go to lab and do research on my computer there and talk to my labmates about research. I usually work on my laptop later at night too.
What do you like the most about your current profession?
I love teaching undergraduates about chemistry and remembering how exciting it is to learn about and understand.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your current profession?
It is very difficult to earn a tenure-track position in the US, and it is challenging to stay at the top of your game long enough to get that opportunity!
Who are your role models or who do you look up to?
Jerelle Joseph is my #1 role model!! I also look up to professors who manage their labs with compassion and interest in their students. I admire professors who know all about their students' lives and goals and I hope to be like that someday.
What motivates you?
I am most motivated when I feel I understand something, and I want to communicate it so that anyone can understand. I believe that the transfer of knowledge from experts to a general audience is so important and I am motivated to do it as well as I can.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud when I help someone understand something, especially a student.
What are the biggest obstacles/challenges you have faced so far in pursuit of your goals?
It was difficult to become involved in research because I did not do any research in undergrad. I was very lucky that a professor offered me the opportunity to work in his lab to gain the necessary experience to apply to master’s and PhD programs.
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I teach yoga! I am very inflexible and I like showing my class participants that yoga does not require flexibility.
Anything else to add?
My favourite article is by Philip Guo, in which he discusses why people who don't "look the part" of the profession they are trying to pursue face more challenges than people who do look the part.
One last thing: What is the best piece of advice for someone wishing to enter your field of study/work?
You are never too late to learn something - just because you didn't do it in undergrad doesn't mean you can't do it now.
CariScholar Q&A with Brooke Husic - A PhD candidate in Chemistry at Stanford University.
This series aims to give a glimpse into the professional journeys of some of the most accomplished academics and professionals.
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