Member Spotlight: Kelsey Riley
Each month, we invite DBC members with a connection to our theme to share their personal experiences with us. Interested in sharing your story with the DBC community? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please introduce yourself to the DBC members.
Hi, I'm Kelsey Riley! I'm currently a graduate student finishing my master's in biology this spring at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. Prior to beginning my graduate program, I was a middle and high school science teacher for 10 years.
Why is this month’s topic, women in science, near and dear to your heart?
As a science student, researcher, and educator, I know how important it is for girls to have strong science role models. Even though the percent of women earning degrees in STEM-related fields has grown dramatically over the past few decades, women are still underrepresented in the scientific workforce and there's definitely still a lack of female compared to male science professors at most universities. Among women who earn bachelor's degrees in STEM fields, data shows that many do not enter science-related careers or continue in scientific graduate programs afterward. This is due to a variety of factors, and just goes to show that the scientific gender gap is still a prominent issue in our society.
How did you discover your passion for microbiology?
I was first inspired to study biology by a wonderful science teacher that I had in high school, which led to me major in molecular & cell biology at U.C. Berkeley, followed by a career as a science teacher myself. When I decided to return to graduate school for my master's, I joined a research lab that studies cyanobacteria, which are bacteria that can perform photosynthesis to harness the energy from the sun for producing their own sugars. Cyanobacteria, as it turns out, are among the most ancient life forms on earth and "invented" the process of photosynthesis, in addition to being super interesting and significant in so many other ways. I was struck early on by how complex these organisms really are and how much there still is to learn about them. I'm fascinated by microbiology and molecular biology, because it's amazing to me that so much complexity can take place at such a tiny, microscopic scale!
Did you have a favorite book that featured women (or girls) and science while growing up? Is there one you've read in your adulthood that you love?
This isn't a book that really featured a woman per se, but when I was college I read James Watson's memoir, The Double Helix (about the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick in the early 1950s) and I was fascinated by Rosalind Franklin, the female scientist whose x-ray crystallography data (unbeknownst to her at the time) played a critical role in the development of Watson and Crick's model. I was so impressed with the story of this incredible female scientist, and although she never received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the DNA double helix along with Watson, Crick and Wilkins (because she died before it was given), her contributions to the study of molecular biology were so significant. I can only imagine the kinds of challenges she faced as one of very few women scientists in her field at that time, and that book prompted me to go online and read a lot more about her story.
Do you find you have faced obstacles in your field because of your gender?
I think that my experience as a science teacher and biology graduate student may not be representative of the experiences of all women in other scientific fields, because there are quite a few female high school and middle school science teachers, and women also tend to be better-represented in biology than in some of the other STEM disciplines. So I haven't experienced many of the obstacles that a woman who feels underrepresented in her field might encounter. However, speaking from my own experience and from what I've seen from some of my fellow females in science, I think we sometimes tend to doubt our abilities and internalize criticism more than our male counterparts and this can lead to us not always advocate for ourselves as much as we should. I should say that this is obviously a generalization, based on my own experiences so far, and not necessarily on any "hard data." :)
Are there any additional resources (books, articles, podcasts) about women in science that you would recommend to our readers?
I can't think of much off the top of my head right now, but I did enjoy this recent article for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (Feb 11), that shared reflections from female scientists across the globe.
Do you have any advice for young women looking to pursue a career in biology?
Biology is a complex subject and studying it may feel daunting at times but let your passion for the subject fuel your hard work and use the resources available to you to get help when you need it! Make sure you take advantage of opportunities like internships or research positions that are related to your desired career path. Most importantly, don't sell yourself or your abilities short.
Is there anything else you’d like our members to know?
SCIENCE IS AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL and the possible scientific questions we can ask are endless! Every question we answer seems to open doors to new questions. I like to say that "the more you know, the more you know how much you don't know!" :)