#STEMStories: Claire, Postdoctoral Assoc ...

#STEMStories: Claire, Postdoctoral Associate, USA

Dec 31, 2021

Two years ago, we spoke to Claire, a postdoctoral associate at Cornell. She used to study plants – specifically the columbine flower, but during her Ph.D. she got really interested in studying how they teach and create inclusive classrooms in STEM. 

1. Since you shared your STEM story with us, has anything changed in relation to your STEM career?

In the two years since I shared my STEM story, I finished up my postdoc at Cornell and moved to UC San Diego to start a job as a tenure-track faculty member in the division of Biology. I’m now an Assistant Teaching Professor, and I get to continue doing what I loved as a graduate and postdoc but at a larger scale – I teach both a large introductory lecture course as well as an upper-level lab course, have a research group with a few students helping me continue to explore student experiences in biology, and continue to be involved with science outreach!

2. How/why did the changes happen?

I knew I wanted a teaching-focused position, but I also was hoping for a tenure-track position at a larger institution, preferably on the west coast (this narrowed down the places I was looking at quite a bit!). I hadn’t been sure if I was ready to go on the job market at the time, but my postdoc advisor sent me a job advertisement from UCSD with the subject line “Is this your dream job?” and gave me the courage to apply. I did have materials in an almost-ready stage (if you’re going on the job market soon, I recommend getting involved with professional development groups, either formal or informal, to help you stay on top of preparing materials), which made it a lot easier for me to quickly put together an application.

1. Introduce yourself, who are you, and what do you do?

Hi! I’m Claire Meaders, and I’m a postdoctoral associate at Cornell. I used to study plants – specifically the columbine flower, but during my Ph.D. I got really interested in studying how we teach and create inclusive classrooms in STEM. My research now focuses on the transition for students from high school to college in their introductory STEM courses.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

When I was a kid the field of biology education research was just coming into existence – I didn’t know about it until well into my Ph.D. Looking back it looks like I was preparing for it all along (I got involved with science outreach during my first semester of graduate school, took courses and fellowships focused on education, and in general loved teaching), but I really was just pursuing areas I was interested in. As I was getting ready to graduate, I thought more about how to make my “extracurriculars” my career and got really lucky in finding a postdoctoral advisor who could help me switch paths.

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

I almost switched out of STEM during my first semester of college after a poor grade on my first mid-term, and I love that the work I do now has the potential to support and keep students who want to pursue STEM degrees in the field.

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a story?

It can be easy for me to get caught up in the minutiae of research but doing work where I can see immediate impacts has been really helpful to keep myself grounded when I’m stressed. For example, I mentor an 8th grade student weekly through an after-school program and taking time to focus on someone else always makes me feel centered again.

I’ve also always found running to be therapeutic – I got into longer-distance running when I was in college as a way to get out of the campus bubble. I’ve run with various friends over the years, and the mix of company and endorphins always raises my spirits when I’m stressed. I started running marathons in college, mostly to see if I could, but it’s turned into a long-term way for me to literally step away from my work when I’m overthinking things. Plus, the personal feeling of accomplishment after going for a run is always a great way to deal with a way when you feel like nothing else has worked in lab!

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

I’m really lucky and I have a lot of role models – both my PhD advisor and postdoctoral advisor are women in STEM who manage multiple roles while also researching, teaching, and being advocates for students in their departments. Their work and efforts to support future scientists gives me more confidence in my own abilities to juggle projects and motivates me to mentor students across various levels in K-16.

I also just became a AAAS If/Then Ambassador, which is a program of 125 women in STEM from all different fields and career stages. The goal of the program is to provide middle school girls with role models in STEM, but I have also really benefited from having this new network of women to be inspired by.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

I’d tell myself not to stress about figuring out exactly what I wanted to do with my life.

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  1. The job you want might not exist yet – keep pursuing all of your interests, you’ll get transferrable skills from each one and you might also be preparing for a future career where you get to combine multiple interests.

  2.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions – not knowing something only shows that you’re still learning. And we’re all still learning.

  3. Build a mentoring network – different mentors can serve different roles. For example you might have a formal research mentor once you start working in a lab, but you also might have mentors who can help you with professional development or developing other skills, mentors who are sounding boards or who give feedback, and also peer mentors (these might be friends you look up to). Your mentors can be from all aspects of your life, and can be your biggest cheerleaders to help you celebrate your successes, and also your safe spaces if you have stressful times. And then pay it forward by mentoring others!

8. How do you measure your success?

I feel successful when I feel like I’ve learned new things or new skills. If what was challenging for me last year now feels easy, that’s a huge success!

It’s also really important to me to feel like I’m doing impactful work – whether it be through research, teaching, or outreach (preferably all three), I feel most successful when I feel like my work could benefit individual students and on a broader level academia.

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

I recently launched my personal website: https://www.clairemeaders.com, where I have some more details about my work!

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

Twitter: @clairemeaders
Instagram: @drclairemeaders
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/clara-meaders-3451123b/

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