Graduate students offer advice for the next generation of scientists

KRISTI MOORE: Science isn’t an easy career to choose. It can be demanding, and requires creativity, patience and a lot of carefully practiced skill. It can also mean a lot of failure – sometimes failing may be the answer you’re looking for. So it can be hard, but if you’re interested in science, what’s hard is relative and our graduate students are here to root you on.

KATIE HORNICK: Everyone can be a scientist.

HADLEY MCINTOSH: I think that comes back to us, as students, showing the fun and the challenges in science to those younger generations and sometimes explaining some of the challenges we’ve faced ourselves and how we’ve overcome them.

ANNIE CAREW: It helps to have a strong personal support network, male and female, you know, supportive family, friends, significant others who are standing behind you cheering you on.

ANA SOSA: I just feel extremely inspired by the generation before us, like they made a way for us to do what we want to do. And I feel extremely inspired to inspire the next generation and I want to be that person who they can look at and say, ‘If she can do it, I can too.’


MOORE: I’m Kristi Moore and for Women’s History Month, I’ve been talking with female graduate students at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science about what it’s been like to pursue a career in a field where women have historically been underrepresented. They talked about a variety of obstacles from gender bias to academic challenges, but they found inspiration in the women before them and want to be the motivation for who comes next. I asked 22 of our students their advice for the students following in their footsteps. Here’s what they said…

SHADAESHA GREEN: My advice would be do all the things: listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, get out there, find what you like, find your passion. Just do everything you can.

MCINTOSH: So internships, chances to go out and get dirty and get in the mud or get in the water, or learning how to do coding in elementary.

GREEN: By doing as much as you can, you figure out what it is that you like to do. You have to try things to figure out what it is that you like and it’s even more important when you figure out what you don’t like. So just do it all, watch it all, listen to it all, be in it all; just do as much as you can with the time that you have.

JACQULINE TAY: Try a lot of things and don’t be afraid to fail. I think that’s what science is all about.

CLAIRE NEMES: Go after what you want but understand that you’re going to run into a huge amount of challenges. That’s what education and science are about, but try to shift that mentality away from you have to be inherently a math person or really grasp certain concepts. That’s not what science is about. Anybody can develop critical thinking skills. I think a lot of times people make this mistake and think that you have to be naturally good at something to succeed. You have to be able to grasp quantum physics.

KATIE HORNICK: Science is more than memorizing facts. It is this complex process, but also has different facets to it and it also addresses real-world issues that are in your backyard. So realize it’s more than numbers and jargon and memorizing things.

NEMES: The amount of success you have is proportional to the amount you put into it.

SAM GLEICH: Something that really helped me grow in my science career was having a really strong role model and mentor in the sciences. My parents, neither of them are scientists, and they’re incredible, and always push me to do my best and follow what I’m passionate about, but it’s really helpful to have somebody sort of understand struggles that you might be going through. If you’re lucky enough to meet someone who you find as a strong woman role model in science or even if it’s a man, somebody you can look up to and ask questions to is really beneficial I think.

CHRISTINA GOETHEL: If you’re 8, 9, 7, 6 years old and you’re interested in something, find someone that’ll listen to you and will help you guide that passion. So find someone that knows about those resources or go up to a teacher, go up to a parent, go to a friend’s parent—I used one of those to decide where to go to college. Find someone who’s willing to say yes when you ask the crazy questions. 

TAN ZOU: At the end of my graduate program, I found the Society of Women Engineers and I found a lot of women engineer students in it, so that was encouraging and helped me understand I am not alone. There are still a lot of people like me and we can talk to each other and understand each other, and absolutely we can support each other.

CHRISTINE KNAUSS: The best advice that I would give is if you love something, related to science or anything, you should pursue it. It’s so much easier to do work, especially science work, when you have to have long days and long hours.

KELLY PEARCE: If you are not passionate about something, it’s really hard to go through that follow-through process. People that are just getting into the field, go out and volunteer with a variety of different scientists and see which one speaks to you.

MAUREEN BROOKS: If you love the natural world, explore it and go spend time in it. If you love puzzles, think about learning computer programming because it’s a lot of solving puzzles.

EMILY RUSS: Science is everywhere. It’s a process. So if you like art, there is a way to blend those two things. So just be willing to pair it with something that you really find fascinating and just think about the process.

BROOKS: but find the things that you like and the things that you love and just keep questioning them and spending time with them.

CAREW: Keep asking questions, don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially difficult questions, and then don’t be afraid to try new things because I think some of the best things that have ever happened to me in my life were because I said, well, I’ll just give it a try.

KAILA NOLAND: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t be afraid answer questions.

HANNAH MORRISSETTE: Ask questions. They should always strive to better themselves.

CAREW: And then don’t be afraid to try new things because I think some of the best things that have ever happened to me in my life were because I said, well, I’ll just give it a try.

MORRISSETTE: Really get to know all the options that they really have because these girls coming into these fields and growing up now really have a lot of options in front of them and a lot of opportunities and I think that they need to know they can really go after anything they want.

SOSA: My advice would be don’t let people tell you what you should be doing or how you should look or the way you should be learning. Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t be you and be a scientist; just be confident in what you like, who you are, how you do things.

PINKY LIAU: Don’t compare yourself to other people. Don’t compare your failures to other people’s successes and if somebody tells you that you can’t do something, don’t take that too personally and too seriously because if you want to do something and if you want to pursue something, then who are they to tell you you can’t do it and that you can’t succeed?

DANIELA TIZABI: I think my biggest advice for future generations is don’t be discouraged.

MELANIE JACKSON: Don’t get discouraged.

TIZABI: It’s something I battle with often, but it’s true, you really are your biggest critic.

JACKSON: Especially right now with social media, we share our successes and positive things and there aren’t many of us that share the failures or the experiment that didn’t work. We all experience things that set us back and everything will end up being alright.

TIZABI: There’s so many times where I’m struggling with some problem or some assignment. It gets overwhelming at times and I’m like I can’t do this, but you just see all the people who have done this already and accomplished this and you have to realize and think to yourself, there’s no reason I can’t do the same. I mean you’re always going to face struggles, but as long as you stick with it, you’ll be able to accomplish great things. Just know you’re on your own path, you’re taking different steps, but just continue with it and you’ll do great things.

STEPHANIE SIEMEK: No matter what the thing you think is setting you back now, just keep going with it, and one day you will get over it and you’ll be like why was so scared or why was I that way and it makes you a more confident person, too.

AMANDA LAWRENCE: I think my biggest struggle is feeling like I’m not smart enough or I’m not good enough.

ZORAIDA PÉREZ DELGADO: At least in my culture, people usually tell you, you need to be a doctor, a lawyer, that’s it, those are the two options.

LAWRENCE: And I think this is going to sound really cliché, but you should never give up.

PÉREZ DELGADO: Just don’t give up.

LAWRENCE: You can do it, I can do it, everybody can do it if that’s what they want. I feel like your self-motivation and determination and ability to pursue what you want is probably more than half the battle. It doesn’t how much you know, you can learn it. It’s like a battle with yourself. You just have to want it and you have to believe in yourself that you can do it and then go forward and do it.

PÉREZ DELGADO: If it’s something that you’re really passionate about and it’s something you know at the end of the day it’s something you love to do, even if it’s really hard and you want to cry because grad students cry even though they don’t talk about it, just don’t give up. Every single no that you find along the way, take it as a challenge and take it as a way to motivate yourself to work harder, and at the end of the day, you’re going to be happy.


MOORE: Special thanks to Tan Zou, Stephanie Siemek, Kelly Pearce, Claire Nemes, and Annie Carew of Appalachian Laboratory; Hadley McIntosh, Christina Goethel, and Zoraida Perez Delgado of Chesapeake Biological Laboratory; Katie Hornick, Sam Gleich, Christine Knauss, Melanie Jackson, Emily Russ, Hannah Morrissette, Maureen Brooks, Pinky Liao, and Jacqueline Tay of Horn Point Laboratory, and Kaila Noland, Shadaesha Green, Amanda Lawrence, Ana Sosa, and Daniela Tizabi of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Science; thanks to all of you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, and thank you for listening. If you want to hear more stories like this, be sure to visit