Microbes, Molecules, and a Love of Biology

 

by Lauren A. R. Tompkins

Lauren’s STEM of choice is Science with a focus on microbiology and immunology. She studied for many years to get where she is, first at The College of Wooster for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and at The University of North Carolina for a Master of Science degree in Microbiology and Immunology, researching reservoirs of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) throughout the human body, with a focus on the brain. She is now pursuing a career in science journalism and freelance writing. In her spare time, outside of work, Lauren also loves reading about science in the news and delving into a good research article. If there was one thing she wished she’d known before college about STEM, it would be “[that] science isn’t a unidirectional path lacking bends, turns, and forks in the road – you make your own way and figure it out as you go”.

Introduction

My dad taught science to high school students for 30 years in Cleveland, Ohio. I guess you could say there is a genetic component to my interest in science, but I think it all began with an inherent curiosity about life. I remember investigating my Dad’s biology textbooks when I was a kid, perusing the pictures and diagrams with interest, reading strange-sounding words like “mitochondria” and “pulmonary,” curious about their meaning. It never ceased to amaze me how our bodies are essentially sacs of water and bones, yet our minds have the ability to reason and invent, create and love. So, understanding how the body works always intrigued me.

Materials and Methods

In high school, I took honors and advanced placement courses in the sciences, specifically in biology and chemistry. I then searched for colleges with strong programs in the sciences in the context of a liberal arts education. The beauty of a liberal arts education is in its well-rounded, holistic approach to learning. Students are required to enroll in unique courses outside of a selected major of study, often including studies in humanities, sociology, and art. At the College of Wooster, I was able to major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, while still taking Comparative Film Studies and Abnormal Psychology. Wooster also emphasizes the importance of solid writing skills in life and in any profession, so most of the courses I took were writing-intensive.

Each student at Wooster completes an independent study (research) project in his/her senior year. As a science major, I planned and conducted a series of experiments towards a research goal of my own design, culminating in a written thesis and oral defense. My project was essentially in drug design, under the umbrella of organic chemistry, with the aim of combatting antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection. Conducting my own research was a completely different experience from instructional lab work as part of a course requirement. It’s far more exciting to think independently in the context of one’s own work, and science truly comes to life in this way. My experience at Wooster solidified my decision to pursue a career in biomedical science.

The most memorable experience that I had in college was when I studied abroad in Australia. Some of my most cherished memories are from my time spent on the other side of the world. I still dream about the Great Barrier Reef – the color of the water, the feeling of floating in another world, the incredible creatures of the sea. In Australia, I spent much of my time in the Reef, either scuba diving or snorkeling, eagerly awaiting the next wonder the ocean held. I learned to rock climb and surf; I camped on remote islands and drove the Great Ocean Road; I sailed around the Whitsunday Islands and swam with sharks. Every chance I had to conquer a fear, I took it. I am who I am today because of Australia, and I urge every young person to try to join a study abroad program. Never pass up an opportunity for adventure!

After college, I joined the laboratory of Dr. Albert Z. Kapikian at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) just outside of Washington D.C. Dr. Kapikian, who is recently deceased, was an extraordinary scientist and humanitarian whose invention and dissemination of rotavirus vaccines has affected the lives of innumerable infants and young children. Rotavirus infection causes diarrhea and dehydration, which in severe cases lead to death. In fact, roughly 500,000 children die from rotavirus infection annually, despite the existence of highly effective vaccines. Children of developing countries largely shoulder the rotavirus disease burden, as facilities and funding for vaccine production are limited. To address this issue, Dr. Kapikian pioneered an international rotavirus vaccine program, which licenses rotavirus vaccine technology to manufacturers in developing countries for self-sustainable production. The ultimate goal of this program is to promote the distribution of affordable, life saving vaccines to children in need. I served as a manager for the vaccine program, where I communicated with licensees, provided support and troubleshooting advise during vaccine production, and performed experiments to confirm vaccine composition and quality. This experience was incredibly rewarding for me, and in commemoration, I have a framed photograph of a Ghanaian infant receiving a dose of one of our vaccines hanging on my wall at home.

During my time at the NIH, I also conducted research and published a paper examining viral molecular epidemiology, essentially characterizing strains of viruses that caused severe diarrhea in children of developing countries. I found that I enjoyed lab work and decided to continue my education in pursuit of a career in scientific research. I was accepted to several graduate programs and decided to attend the University of North Carolina based on educational and research merits as well as a generally collegial, friendly atmosphere. I joined the laboratory of Dr. Ronald Swanstrom to study the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Dr. Swanstrom was among the first HIV researchers who heralded discoveries in the composition of the HIV genome and viral replication strategies. My research project was centered on analyzing reservoirs of HIV throughout the human body. HIV reservoirs are currently a hot topic of study due to their significance in finding a cure to HIV infection, which is incurable, but treatable. HIV persists in the human body over long periods of time in the form of a reservoir, which is a place in the body where the virus survives, avoids recognition by the immune system, and is protected from the action of drugs that treat HIV infection. Treatment regimens are responsible for controlling most of the infection, but since they do not affect viral reservoirs, these drugs must be taken throughout life to prevent disease progression and associated pathologies.

After about three and a half years of graduate school, I realized that my career aspirations were changing, becoming refined. Although I greatly enjoyed my years at the lab bench conducting experiments, I found that reading and writing about science was by far the most interesting to me. I yearned for a creative platform to discuss topics in science to a general audience, in hopes of cultivating interest in the field so that we may improve our world through positive change. After speaking with science journalists and freelance writers, I decided to graduate from my program with a Master of Science degree rather than continue on to a doctorate, so that I could pursue a career in science writing and communication. When I think about it, I’m not that surprised that I ended up in a career centered in writing, given my history at Wooster. I am excited to embark on this new adventure, a career that suits my passions of discovering, learning, and contributing to a better world.

Results

Right now, I am working as a freelance writer and editor in the biomedical sciences. I’m at the beginning of a career in science writing, so I’m currently building a portfolio of work. For now, my income is mostly from editing scientific articles to improve flow, clarity, and grammar. I am also contributing to blogs, composing story pitches to publications, and even doing a little creative writing. Since I am my own boss, I can choose what scientific topics to study, which opens up so many possibilities to learn about exciting new research. I also work from home and make my own hours. The greatest challenge has been in transitioning from structured to unstructured time throughout my day. I have to be self-motivated to do my job, which takes discipline and focus. At the same time, when I’m suffering from writer’s block, I can choose to do something else productive, like research new science articles, until my writing muse returns. My income is not steady as a freelancer, but I love what I do, I have a great work-life balance, and I’m always optimistic that opportunities will arise with effort and perseverance.

Discussion

As I am a virologist in training, I am most interested in infectious diseases, especially outbreaks of microbes that we know little about, such as the Zika virus and its likely contribution to microcephaly in fetuses of infected mothers. With the upcoming Summer Olympics being held in Brazil at the heart of the Zika outbreaks, I am curious, and concerned, about how increased travel to the area will affect the prevalence of the virus in other regions of the world. Mosquitos are the main culprits for spreading Zika, but it’s beginning to look like the virus is also transmitted person-to-person, at least sexually. Can we control these outbreaks through the use of mosquito repellants and netting? Or are we playing with fire when we risk exposing millions of people to Zika this summer? These are some of the questions I think about addressing through writing.

 

 

For the Love of Legos…An Engineering Story.

Scott Volchko, PE

Introduction– Who I really am

I’ll admit it upfront, I am close to the stereotypical engineer. The quiet, introvert type whose mind is always wandering, but how did I become a STEM kid? I still kind of wonder today. I don’t remember the day I decided to become a mechanical engineer, but I’ve always been fascinated by what I’ll call machines, my generic term for anything with moving parts.

I am the son of an elementary teacher and a systems analyst, but I think I have to go back one more generation to really find out where the engineer inside me came from. Although my grandparents were retired from the time I can remember, both my grandfathers were builders. My maternal grandfather was a welder and my paternal grandfather was a machinist and machine assembler. Both of them taught me from a young age how to use tools, make repairs from whatever was available and take care of your machines… most notably boats, cars, and yard equipment.

As I was growing up, much to my dad’s dismay, if there was something to take apart, I took it apart. Sometimes the machines went back together, but most of the time there was carnage. When I wasn’t destroying things, Legos were my media to build, take apart and build again. Since I’ve always liked cars, I usually built cars and garages for my cars. I was probably about 12 years old when I decided to build a Lego truck and mount a C6 Estes model rocket motor in the bed. Let’s just say I should have used the Kragel.

As a grown engineer, I still love machines and building. I have restored cars, worked on boats, started tinkering with wood working, and most importantly still buy cool Lego sets wondering why they have an age range and not just a minimum age. Can you ever be too old to play with Legos?

Materials and Methods– How I got here

My first formal dive into the science world came as a member of my high school Science Olympiad team. The two years I competed in the Science Olympiad were also the first two years that my high school participated. To say we were not prepared would be an understatement, but everyone on the team learned a lot. We had prepared for some of the competitions and walked blind into others doing our best. Since I went to a smaller high school, the only AP class I took was calculus. We had two other AP classes, but what STEM kid wants to take AP english or history?

Just before my search for colleges started I bought a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro project car and started tinkering. As I previously mentioned, I don’t remember when I decided to become a mechanical engineer, but I was always working to figure out how parts were made and what the engineer had in mind 30 years before when the car was designed. Over time I just decided I wanted to design cars and mechanical engineering seemed like the profession to get me there.

My college search took me around the Midwest to a few Big Ten schools, Notre Dame University, Case Western Reserve University, and Kettering University. Finally, I narrowed down my decision to Case or Penn State and chose Case for its small size and location. My opinion of the most important thing you can do as an undergraduate is get involved in extra-curricular activities you are passionate about. My activity was Formula SAE and much like Science Olympiad, we were building a new program from the ground up. We took two years to build one car, but learned a ton and finished all events in the competition. I stayed at Case for a fifth year and earned a MSME degree, researching with NASA on space micro-propulsion devices.

Results– What I do now

Well this is simple, I am a Mechanical Engineer! My first job out of college was obtained through the Formula SAE program. I was hired to work at a large automotive OEM as an automotive designer then went on to a small to medium sized materials company as both a product and a process designer. As an automotive designer, I was responsible for design of parts or complete systems for automotive fuel systems. As a designer the slate is often clean and ready for innovation. As an automotive designer, I received six design patents, most of which are driving around on highways around the globe.

My current role as Manager of New Product and Process Development for a small materials company gives me the opportunity to both design products and then be part of the production process, helping define manufacturing processes as required.

 

Discussion– What truly is a Mechanical Engineer

In my opinion the definition of engineer or the field of engineering, regardless of the specialty, is a problem solver. Education in engineering is all about learning the tools to solve problems. Every engineer takes courses in other engineering disciplines to get a basic understanding of each field, just enough to be dangerous.

So what is a mechanical engineer? Mechanical engineering is probably the broadest field in engineering. A lot of engineering disciplines are really specialized versions of mechanical engineering. Within the broad scope of mechanical engineering there is also product engineering, process engineering and test engineering. Think about the objects you interact with every day in life starting with your toothbrush, the water faucet, the floors you walk on the shoes you wear, and the car you ride in or drive. Mechanical engineers had a hand in all of those objects at least in the background making sure these objects were designed right, performed their desired function correctly and that there was an efficient manufacturing process to make the products.

The final component and often overlooked part of an engineering education is the business component. In every business there will be pressure from accounting and finance to reduce expenses and pressure from sales to reduce price and increase quality. As a mechanical engineer, it’s always best to go into a design, test, or process development with an idea of a budget in mind and only deviate from the budget if you feel there is a safety problem or the product will not meet the customers needs.

 

Programming to a Different Path

By Benjamin Chodoroff

Benjamin Chodoroff’s STEM of choice is sort-of math and sort-of engineering: computer programming. He started writing computer programs on his TI-85 calculator in 9th grade, and got interested in building websites for anti-war organizations. He found a career as an independent contractor building small database applications & prototypes for all sorts of clients. After work, he plays with radios, learns about programming theory, and mentors new programmers.

I took a circuitous, but not so rare, path to my career as a computer programmer: I started learning on my own in highschool, not really realizing that it could potentially be a lucrative career. I programmed little scripts to make my life easier, built websites for friends, and automated tasks for small businesses, but never really took it seriously — the reward of figuring out a complex puzzle & understanding large systems was reward enough.

During highschool, I was very lucky to be friends with another computer programmer. While we did enroll in an as-of-then-brand-new AP computer science course, we were much more interested in learning everything we could about programming on our own. We were very different types of students in school, but neither of us found the inspiration and fun in our classes that we found while building our own projects.

After high school, we were both lucky to find meaningful and challenging careers as programmers without college degrees. While he worked in enterprise software development, I consulted with small businesses, building them websites and databases. I started to help out with free software projects, which has become a fulfilling and consistent aspect of my day-to-day work. I did study at colleges a bit, but didn’t take any engineering or CS courses — it never occurred to me as something I would go to school and learn when there were so many people willing to pay me to build something already.

I sometimes run into issues where I think to myself, “this might be easier if I’d taken a course in this-or-that theory,” but it’s pretty rare. When it does happen, I have a great excuse to dive into some books, ask a friend, or simply discover a solution on my own.

Sometimes I wonder what would’ve been different about my life if there were more programmers in my middle or high schools, or if there were active FIRST robotics programs — I bet there would’ve been more, and more diverse, software developers popping up!

I didn’t have many mentors until very recently in my career. It’s only been over the past few years that I’ve had the chance to work with people significantly older than me. With programming, it’s easy to rely on reading books & articles on the web in lieu of having a mentor, but you miss out of some of the more esoteric skills, like how to manage client relationships & how to balance work and free time.

I love working as a programmer — I’m forced to learn new things all the time, and I deeply enjoy doing so. The prospect of being too out-of-date might be daunting sometimes, but after a while you realize the the core concepts never change — you just have to learn how to apply them to new things, all the time.

Using Forensic Science to Track Down a Career

by Samantha Rynas

 

Introduction- Who I really am

I always remember enjoying science.  How things all fit together and worked.  How all the little parts of the body could work together so in sync that you don’t even know its happening.  My earliest memory of being interested in science was a microscope set I had as a kid. I remember trying to find more things around the house to look at under the microscope, grass, hairs, carpet fibers, anything really.  I was interested in being an E.M.T. (Emergency Technician) at one point., Mmy sister and I would look through an EMT book my Dad had and read about injuries and how to deal with them.  I also remember my sisters and I scheming of ways to engineer fun things.  One example being: trying to convert old Radio Flyer wagon into some kind of go cart., Tthat didn’t go so well…but we always had fun doing it and never let any failures stop us from trying new projects.  We just hadn’t figured out the best way yet. I think making things with my hands was also a big part of my childhood.  My dad was a Ham Radio Operator and he would let us help him make antennas in the garage.  Having an interest in making things has followed me for years, in middle school I discovered Drafting class which led me into wanting to scale up my projects from at home projects to homes; pursuing architecture or engineering.

 

Materials and Methods- How I got here

I’ve had a pretty windy road to get to where I am. I did not go into school with a set plan.  In middle school I was interested in biology, but really enjoyed drawing up housing plans.  Throughout high school I took a CAD class and learned more about drafting, but I had a great biology teacher who got me really interested in science as well.  There was also the always crazy Chemistry/physics teacher… The one that would ask how big of an explosion did you want, or consistently had blood on his lab coat from things like a failed potato launcher.

 

As High School was coming to a close and college was looming I had a few options in front of me.  It is really interesting how things work out, while a lot of things can seem like doors getting shut, I am extremely grateful for all these doors being shut – it got me to where I am now.  My senior year of high school I moved states, the new school had a different grading scale,  causing my GPA to drop.  Sadly this greatly affected my ability to go to my first choice school, North Carolina State which had a great Engineering program, the route I was hoping to pursue. Moving to another state had another effect as well.  I picked up my running training, and my running times for cross country dropped down to a competitive level.  I had moved from highly competitive California to North Carolina which was less populated and less competitive opening doors to getting a running scholarship to college.  In my senior year I was able to secure a scholarship to a small private university, Pfeiffer University. Pfeiffer had both options for a Biology degree as well as engineering, so I decided to go there.  

 

While at Pfeiffer my track continued to change.  My hopes were dashed for engineering – I am terrible at math.  So I focused on Biology.  The professors were fun, they kept things interesting.  I worked on extra research, specifically on Twin’s DNA since I am a twin and found this to be interesting.  About half way through college I was seeing myself at a crossroads, I needed to figure out if I was going to pursue an advanced degree and if so what?  What are your options as a Biology major?  As a Biology major, basically all jobs required additional degrees and I knew I didn’t want to go to be a Doctor. I felt pretty trapped in my options. I had no interest in going to medical school.  This was the wagon project again, I had a problem, figure out “what I want to be when I grow up”, I just hadn’t figured out the answer yet. While in college I had continued to develop my interest in making things, more specifically – Art class.  So I started to think of ways to combine both these topics I enjoyed.  I came up with Forensic Sketching. After researching this option I found a dead end, this profession was a dying field and mostly done digitally now.  Looking into Forensics did spark my interest though, and I started looking at other fields in Forensics. There were a lot of options in Forensics I could do DNA or crime scene photography. I already had some DNA research and was learning the basics of photography in my art courses.  I knew that as a kid looking through EMT books that blood and injuries didn’t bother me, so likely I could handle messy crime scenes. As I researched it the more interested I got in the subject.  I also discovered Pfeiffer had a Forensics concentration and I already had most of the classes.  So I decided to pursue that track and eventually decided to get a Masters in Forensic Science and focus on DNA testing.

 

Results- What I do now

After obtaining my Masters I decided I wanted to work in a crime lab and landed a job in New Mexico, at the state crime lab.  I get to test items of evidence that law enforcement submits to our lab for testing.  Our goal is to help answer what happened at the scene.  It starts with identifying where DNA could be in the form of biological fluids and after identifying possible fluids to test who could be the source of the fluid through DNA testing.  DNA testing helps to answer questions about the crime – who was touching these items? Is this substance blood?  Whose blood? Was this item used in the crime? etc…

Discussion- Passion for the subject

While working in the Crime lab, it has been amazing to help solve crimes.  You can both clear people and identify an unknown person.  Answer important questions like what the weapon was.   This job always keeps you on your toes and keeps you thinking.  There are a lot of puzzle pieces to put together.  It is great to see the direct results of your testing and know that you are helping all those involved with these crimes.

My Job Wasn’t Even Around When I Was in School…

By Chris Hall

Introduction– Who I really am

Math and Science were always my favorite subjects in school. My parents really helped foster that love and encouraging me in those fields. Those subjects came easy to me in school, whereas English and history, not so much. I loved Capsela which is a construction toy with gears and motors. Sort of like LEGOS with motors. I grew up before computers were mainstream. That’s right, I never had one in my house before going off to college. Nintendo was the first of any type of computer I had at home, and I fondly remember playing the original Legend of Zelda with my brother watching me.

I was also full of energy and loved sports, and wanted to get involved in whatever I could. I played soccer, baseball, and basketball when I was little, and then moved onto track & field in high school. To this day I am still training and competing in athletics, now as a cyclist.

Materials and Methods– How I got here

I fell in love with physics in high school. I was always looking for answers. Science, especially physics, seems to have an answer for everything. I loved challenging my family at dinner with in depth questions like where the universe came from? and what is time?

 

It also helped I had a very cool high school physics teacher. He was very laid back, we even called him ‘Ron’. We even got to launch model rockets one day for class.

Results– What I do now

After spending years writing software to help solve problems and making people’s lives and jobs easier, I moved into management because I thought I could do a better job than any other manager I had. I watched managers struggle with effectively managing software developers. Developers were a new breed of employee who were very creative and talented, but also introverted. I liked the challenge of motivating developers as well as helping clients figure out what IT solutions they really wanted.

My job consists of running meetings in my pajamas from my home office over Skype. I have a wireless headset so I can find time to run down to the kitchen for a quick snack. I go into the office once a week to meet the team for lunch at my favorite Denver sandwich shop…Heidi’s. I am an expert at running meetings very efficiently to help the team reach its goal. I am also an expert as creating a team environment working with remote employees (probably also working in their pajamas). I help foster collaboration by encouraging small talk before meetings, and asking trivia questions at the end of meetings. During the meeting I show graphs, charts, and task lists to keep people on target, but the trivia is usually the highlight 😉

Here I am at my home office.

Chris 1

Here I am experimenting with how far I can lean the bike before it slides out.

Chris 2

Discussion– Passion for the subject

I love IT Management, and here’s why:

Being a manager, I get to work with a lot of smart people doing a lot of very interesting things. Rather than doing just a few cool things on my own, I enjoy creating teams to make significant achievements and advancements in their fields. I really enjoy the people aspect of management where I get to help great people achieve amazing results which they can’t do on their own.

My analytical side loves data and tracking the team performance to more accurately predict results, such as when software will be ready to release. I create custom estimation methods to best match the team. When we release a version, I get to see how accurate my estimates are. From there I can make adjustments for the next version and the process continues.

Journey to Earth

Susan S. Richards, Hydrogeologist, The Mannik & Smith Group, Inc., Maumee, Ohio

I am a 62-year-old female geologist. This fact is important in order to understand my journey.

I work as an environmental geologist, involved every day in helping to redevelop formerly contaminated industrial and commercial sites (Brownfields). I am proud that the work I do has the possibility to result in the creation of new jobs in places where they disappeared long ago.   My journey to being a geologist is long, with many detours along the way.

Sue pic 1

Figure 1 If you hike the Grand Canyon, in Arizona, you too can travel in time from The Kaibab Limestone (white rock at the peak) formed 270 million years ago to the Vishnu Schist (rocks at the lower left with the white vertical rock showing) formed more than a billion years ago. ©Susan Richards

We will start at the beginning. I really do not know what sparked my interest in geology, but I strongly suspect it was taking hikes with my dad through the ravines in my hometown of Waukegan, Illinois. I loved being outside with my dad, climbing hills, and crossing streams on stepping-stones.

As I grew older, I found other interesting ways to learn about geology. There was the show on local Chicago TV called “Journey to the Beginning of Time.” In this show, two boys in a rowboat travel down a stream. As they travel, they go further and further back in time, through many geologic time periods. They, of course, had many exciting adventures, and as a little girl, I thought the boys were very good looking.

Other things which inspired me included the monthly National Geographic magazine, especially the ones with maps. I would pretend that I was traveling all over the world using those maps. We also had a book at home called “National Parks”, also published by National Geographic. I spent hours looking at those pictures, wishing I could see those places for myself. I found other ways to learn about Geology. When our parents visited, my friend Smokey Joe and I would get away from our sisters and read encyclopedias (Back in the days before the internet, people used encyclopedias to learn about things). We would sit and read about volcanos, and rock types. I know that does not sound very exciting, but it was better than dealing with our older sisters who did not want us bothering them. I also started a rock collection, which my parents let me keep in the basement.

When I was about 10 years old, I told my parents that I wanted to become a geologist. They laughed at me and told, “Girls do not become geologists.” At that time (back in the early 1960’s) not many women became scientists. Women became nurses, or teachers, or worked in offices. So, I grew up, went to college, and earned my degree in Elementary Education just as my parents wanted.

Now for a little detour on my journey….. When I was a junior in high school, the environmental movement in this country was just getting started. President Nixon had just created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). We finally, as a nation, had recognized that our industrial past had left a large mess to clean up. A group of friends and I organized the first Earth Day (1970) at our high school. In order to do that, we learned about environmental issues. We make quite a stir in town, and I was interviewed by the local radio station. My interest, in environmental science, therefore, dates back to high school.

We will now go forward in my journey, through college at the University of Illinois. In my senior year of college, I took Geology for fun. My love of Geology was renewed. However, I earned my degree in Elementary Education, married, and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. I could not find a job as a teacher. My husband asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him, “I want to become a geologist.” He said, “Then do it!” So, I did. I applied at Cleveland State, and worked downtown while I went to school. I had to take courses like chemistry and physics, which I had never taken before. Although always a good student, studying those subjects takes a little different skill set. However, one can learn to learn science, and I became good at it.

sue pic 2

Figure 2: Wizard Island in Crater Lake, Oregon, formed in a volcanic caldera about 8,000 years ago – Part of the Cascade Range.     Crater lake is almost 2,000 feet deep. © Susan Richards

The more Geology I took, the more I loved it. After graduating with my second college degree, I went to graduate school at Kent State and earned a master’s degree in Geology. In the following years, I worked as a ground water geologist and became a mother to 4 kids. Having children was another detour, but a good one. When my children were in pre-school, I attempted to complete a PhD. I almost did it, but not quite. I do not regret trying to earn a PhD, however; I learned so much that has helped me in my job.   In the years since completing my formal schooling, I kept learning new skills. I learned human health risk assessment and how to model ground water and vapor. These are currently the tools of my trade. Even though I am at the end of my career, I continue to learn new things about geology. I also try to teach the things I have learned to new geologists.

Now that my children are grown, I am finally seeing some of those places I read about in National Geographic and in books when I was a child. I have developed a love of photography, and can capture some of those great moments I experience when hiking through those wonderful places.