Women in STEM: Kate

Kate in her brain hat and muscle leggings

My 19th guest is Kate, a PhD student in Exercise Physiology with a passion for horses, dogs, rabbit and cooking.

Hi @the_fit_academic_! First of all would you like to tell us something about you?

Hi Martina, thanks for the interview, I am honored! Hi STEM fam! My name is Kate Flickinger. I have a Masters in Health & Physical Activity, I am an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, and I am getting my PhD in Exercise Physiology. I Went to Allegheny College for undergrad and the University of Pittsburgh for my masters & PhD- I am a born and raised Pittsburgher! Currently I am working in Emergency Medicine running the Applied Physiology Lab, focusing on resuscitation science. I love working out, horseback riding, my fur babies (2 dogs and a rabbit), and cooking with my husband. *Likely an obvious disclaimer, but anything I say here are my own thoughts and opinions, and do not represent the opinions of my employer or university*

 When did you start your Instagram account? How did you get the idea?

Welp, to be completely honest, I started this Instagram back in 2013 as a BeachBody fitness account! (HA!) Over time the fitness account went from a BeachBody account, to silent, to a general fitness account, to silent again, and finally I decided to use it as my platform to talk about my passion for science, exercise physiology, over all self care, and connect to strong-minded women in the STEM field. The longer I am in the ex phys, emergency medicine, and health and fitness worlds, the more I have come to realize that in order to be the best version of yourself, you need to take care of yourself in all aspects. Yes, you should exercise, and yes you should eat your veggies, but you should also take care of your mental and emotional health. And you should do all of these things BEFORE you have a health issue. When all of those are taken care of, that’s when you feel your best. I decided to keep this blog to both share that idea/philosophy with others, and to connect with my fellow women in STEM. We need to stick together, regardless of which areas of STEM we work in! 

Can you tell us something about how you balance work and private life? 

To be honest, I am not reallllyyyy all that good at balancing work and home life, but arguably that’s because I have a unique working environment. My bosses and colleagues are more than just that, they are family. We see each other on holidays, we go running together during the work day, and our family all hang out together outside of work etc. (I love my job and who I work with, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world!). When it comes to balancing work/my PhD/home, I try to leave work at work. I don’t check my email before I get into the office in the mornings, and I only allow myself to check my email once after I leave for the day. My bosses know that if it is urgent, to call or text, but otherwise I will attend to it the following day. Setting boundaries like that helps me to focus on the present. When it comes to writing for school, I make sure to carve time out of the weekend to spend on it, but I do not allow myself to let it consume me. I force myself to shut my laptop and leave it. 

During your academic studies how many women were in course? Why in your opinion?

During my bachelor’s degree I would say there were a little less than 50% women in my science classes. I think I was lucky enough to have such a high number because Allegheny is a small liberal arts college, and that attracted a lot of strong, science-willed women. My master’s program and PhD program were similar in the women : men ratios. At my job, there are only a handful of women in the department. I think that could be attributed to a lot of different things. One of which, is that generations before us didn’t have as many women going into STEM. Also, being a researcher as a women is incredibly difficult, especially for women who want to take time off and raise children. A research career is a daunting task to begin with. Adding the potential to also wanting a family makes it even more ominous. Research doesn’t make it conducive to women taking maternity leave…grant funding lines and deadlines don’t change if you’re having a baby. I think that the general challenges researchers see, on top of the challenges women face deters a lot of women from wanting to enter the research world. 

Have you ever felt harassed or being kept apart as a scholar because you are a woman?

Within my work and school careers I have never felt harassed or as though I was being kept apart from any of my professors, bosses or mentors (again I think the liberal arts college played a huge role in this during undergrad), and with work and school I think I am just lucky enough to be surrounded by an awesome community. However, outside of my close circle of mentors, bosses, colleagues, I have ABSOLUTELY felt harassed, or like I wasn’t good enough. In my high school gym class, when I couldn’t bench press a certain weight, my gym teacher said to me, “that’s ok honey, the only things you need to be able to lift are groceries and babies.” And that’s just one example in school. Outside of my inner circle, I have been dismissed, interrupted, told that I am wrong (only for them to later come back and say that the idea was right…but not that I was right of course), talked down to, and hit on. In some cases, this has continued to happen despite the fact that I always try to stand my ground. It’s incredibly frustrating. At this point, it doesn’t hurt my feelings, it just outright pisses me off, that kind of behavior from adults is wildly unacceptable. 

How did you become passionate about science?

I have always loved science and biology for as long as I can remember. Growing up I wanted to be a veterinarian. I actually took a job in my current department right out of undergrad as a lab tech, just to get paid enough to move out of my parents house and get a discount on pre-req classes I needed to finish up for veterinary school. However, fate (or whatever you want to call it) clearly had a different idea, because I feel in love with emergency medicine and what I do as my career. I primarily work with physician-researchers, and I knew that I absolutely wanted to stay in my line of research (and current place of employment), but that I also had zero urge to be a clinician. So with that in mind, I decided to go into exercise physiology, so that I can tailor my schooling towards human physiology and emergency medicine / resuscitation sciences. I think I love research so much because I growing up, I always asked “why.” My parents would be furious with me when I asked, but I wasn’t trying to get away with anything, I just wanted to know…why? As a researcher, I can ask any “why,” I want, and answer it on my own.

 Would you like to talk briefly about your job?

I am a jack of all trades. I am a human physiology lab manager, and focus on resuscitation sciences. Our research runs the gamut of intra-cardiac arrest, post- cardiac arrest, and long-term outcomes after cardiac arrest. We also do a lot of research with, EMS, trauma and in-field trauma care and resuscitation. My interest is the long-term outcomes after cardiac arrest. After patients go home, and after they complete cardiac rehab, they still have a significant amount of depression, irritability, and other disabilities. I want to focus on how to address these chronic deficits after a cardiac arrest. 

Thank you so much for your time. Lastly, can you give any advice to girls interested in STEM?

Just. Keep. Going.

If this is what you want, then don’t let any obstacle hold you back. In undergrad, I FAILED (like, straight up F on my transcript) not once, but TWICE before I got it right. Admittedly, I also have a lot of D+’s on my undergrad transcript. At one point, my advisor asked me “is biology really for you? should you explore other alternatives?” and when I told her that a social science would crush my soul, she said, “alright, we will figure it out then!” and by Junior and Senior year, I made the deans list every semester. You don’t have to follow a traditional path to get to where you want to go. Get creative, and get after it! 

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