Women in STEM: Ifeh

Ifeh happy in the lab

My 41st guest is Ifeh, a biochemist from Los Angeles, pursuing a PhD in cancer epigenetics.

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

My name is Ifeh and I am 24 years old. I am originally from Los Angeles, graduated with a B.S. Biochemistry from California Polytechnic State University in 2018, and worked at Genentech in San Francisco for one year. In Fall 2019, I moved to NYC to start a Pharmacology PhD program at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. I am pursuing my PhD research in the laboratory of Dr. Yael David at Memorial Sloan Kettering, studying cancer epigenetics.

When did you start your Twitter and Instagram accounts? How did you get the idea?

I started my science Instagram and professional Twitter when I moved to NYC and started my PhD program in August 2019. I realized that I was about to embark on a new chapter of my life, and that I was entering a rigorous scientific environment. I was inspired to document my journey and hopefully inspire others through my hard work and motivation (and motivate myself along the way). I have always enjoyed writing and blogging, so it seemed like a perfect avenue to combine these passions with my scientific work.

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

This is something that I am still trying to figure out, I’ll let you know when I get there! In order to attempt to balance these things, I take advantage of my dependence on my planner to block off time for my personal life. I block off time for yoga, hanging with friends, bike rides, and other things that constitute my private life and self-care mechanisms.

Ifeh and the autumn leaves

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

My program is about half-and-half men and women.

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

Yes, more so during my undergraduate experience than my graduate school experience. I often felt like my opinions were immediately shot down, or that I just simply wasn’t being listened to over my male counterparts. Especially as a woman of color, I always feel like I have to pay extra close attention to how I present myself, physically and intellectually. I am representing much more than just myself.

How did you become passionate about science? 

I’ve always been interested in learning more about the way the world works on a molecular level. During my high school chemistry and biology courses, I always had a lot of questions and I was often disappointed by the answers I received. I later realized that these lack of clear answers are due to the complexity of biology and the fact that there are still so many unknowns. I’ve always wanted to know the truth, and became fascinated with data. In undergrad, I learned about careers in scientific research from my mentors and felt inspired by the idea that I can just do science forever. I believe that it is a field that will always be exciting, and it’s almost like a puzzle I’m trying to solve. In summary, I am passionate about science because my intrinsic curiosity, but also because of the mentorship and guidance I have received over the years. Because of this, I strive to provide mentorship to the next generation of scientists and curious thinkers.

Would you like to talk briefly about your job?

I work full-time in the laboratory of Dr. Yael David at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. My research focuses on epigenetics, a field that described the processes that alter gene expression in response to internal and external signals without actually changing the DNA sequence. My project is specifically focusing on histone modifications. Histones are proteins that associate with DNA in the nucleus of eukaryotic cells to condense it into chromatin and regulate transcription. Histones are decorated with an extensive variety of modifications that play a role in mediating all DNA-related processes. In general, my research encompasses molecular biology, biochemistry, and cell biology.

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

My advice would be to seek mentorship. If you don’t have a mentor (and even if you do), start thinking about who you can recruit to be your mentor. Networking has been the most useful skill for me throughout my educational scientific career, and it really helps to start building connections early. If you can’t think of potential mentors, you can even reach out to people on LinkedIn! One of the most important pieces of advice I received from a mentor, “If there’s something that you think you want to do, talk to someone who is actually doing that.” It really helps to realize that these are real people that are usually more than happy to share their day-to-day tasks, career journeys, and challenges with you. It also builds confidence for you to start reaching out to people to absorb this information. It’s scary at first, but it gets easier, trust me!

Follow Ifeh on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Ifeh reminding all of us to wear a mask

Published by Martina Bodner

Biotechnologist, PhD Candidate in Food Chemistry, Science Teacher, STEM and autism advocate, mother.

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