Women in STEM: Emmajay

Emmajay

My 47th guest is Emmajay, a chemist, PhD student working on enzymes to help fight cancer.

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

My name is Emmajay and I’m a 23 year old PhD student from Scotland. My undergraduate degree was an MChem in Chemistry with Industrial Experience at Heriot-Watt University from which I graduated in 2019. I then started my postgraduate studies at the University of St Andrews in the group of Dr Clarissa Melo Czekster.

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

I started my science Instagram in June 2019, mostly out of Covid-19 lockdown boredom but I also wanted to reach out to other like-minded students who were also in a similar position as myself.

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

This is such a tough question! I will admit that I can and do work in the evenings and weekends. On the other hand, I always try to spend an hour of the day doing something completely unrelated like attending a gym class or watching tv. I think it’s important to listen to your body and know your limitations. Over-working yourself does not always equal good work so take care of yourself first before taking care of your lab work!

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

Currently I work with a female supervisor who has hired other women including myself into her research group which is highly encouraging for young students! I feel proud to be a part of a strong, smart and inclusive group. In my undergraduate degree however, there was definitely more male students than female and this ‘divide’ was highlighted further by the fact there was only 2 female lecturers in the entire chemistry department. I would like to say that whilst there should’ve been better female and POC representation at the university, I did receive the best of teaching and support which helped shape me into the scientist that I am today.

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

I think as a young undergraduate student, I definitely felt inferior in the company of certain academics and even other students in my class. However I think my experiences in this area are nothing compared to other women of colour especially. Now that I am more comfortable in my knowledge and experience, I do believe in speaking out against this sort of attitude and standing up for my colleagues who may, unfairly, face more scrutiny. We should all be advocates for each other and build a network of support to completely abolish that thought that ‘girls can’t do science.’

How did you become passionate about science?

It’s hard to pinpoint a specific time or place where I realised I loved science but having studied chemistry since high school, I can say that my interest has only grown as I’ve learned more. I guess that’s when you realise you love something.

Emmajay in the lab

Would you like to talk briefly about your job?

My PhD project is focused on using enzymes to produce a library of potential anti-cancer therapeutics. I chose this project as it allowed me to gain more experience in other aspects of science which could help me advance into cancer research in the future. Currently I use a range of techniques including protein expression, chemical synthesis of substrates and maintaining cancer cell lines.

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

‘Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from reaching your goals.’ I think if you want to be successful in any area, you have to give it your all! Certainly with science, you need to be focused and resilient in order to withstand the sometimes tedious and frustrating aspects of experimental work. If you know or even think STEM is for you then go for it. I look forward to seeing a young generation passionate about furthering the advances of STEM subjects and I hope to be a part of a more inclusive and non-gender biased field.

Follow Emmajay on Instagram!

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