Two years ago, we spoke to Sophie, a Researcher and Science Writer from the USA. Her articles regarding the intersection of technology and healthcare, including how innovations transform the management of chronic disease for diverse populations, have been published extensively, most notably appearing in PBS Next Avenue, Forbes, MarketWatch, Brandchannel, Pfizer Get Old and other media outlets.

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

Yes! I am now a contributor to Forbes, writing about the role of technology in our health, especially as we get older. I also completed a journalism fellowship at Columbia University through their Age Boom Academy. The focus was loneliness in aging. My website, Global Health Aging, also became a creative consultancy, where I work with brands and companies to elevate stories about science and society. For example, I interviewed a South African model who was the first woman with albinism to be on the cover of Vogue. My speaking engagements have also increased. I've given talks about mental health in academia and loneliness among older patients. As a person who stutters, I am grateful for these opportunities.

2. How/why did the changes happen?

Great question! I'm a big believer in pursuing opportunities that interest you. I also think putting in work now, even if there's no reward now, can lead to rewards in the future. I think that's what's happening with my current opportunities. I pursued some, and others came to me because of my past work.

1. Say hi :) who are you and what do you do? 

Hello! My name is Sophie, I am a researcher and science writer with experience in healthy aging, patient engagement, and scientific research. My articles regarding the intersection of technology and healthcare, including how innovations transform the management of chronic disease for diverse populations, have been published extensively, most notably appearing in PBS Next Avenue, Forbes, MarketWatch, Brandchannel, Pfizer Get Old and other media outlets. I have a bachelor’s degree in bioinformatics, a master’s degree in public and community health and a graduate certificate in gerontology. 

2. How did you arrive at this career? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do? 

As a young girl, I was an avid reader. I had a budding interest in science and became inspired by my mother’s love of science and healthcare. She started and operated a community pharmacy for several years, where I became exposed to different views of health including patient engagement, health promotion, and preventive medicine. After I graduated with my master’s degree, I launched Global Health Aging, a web-based publication featuring news, research and policy implications on healthy longevity. The website is listed as a resource for research on aging and age-related diseases by the Dahlgren Memorial Library at Georgetown University Medical Center. Global Health Aging has also been nominated twice by Wego Health for the 2015 Rookie of the Year and 2017 Patient Leader Hero Awards. I am very fortunate to have a diverse background because of the different paths I’ve followed and opportunities that have presented themselves to me since graduation.  

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

Contributing to valuable research that impacts science and public health gives me a sense of purpose. I am passionate about improving healthcare through research, innovation, and collaboration, my latest report explores the social and financial costs of millennial dementia caregivers. Also writing for various media outlets such as Salon, Brandchannel and PBS Next Avenue have been a dream come true. 

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

I am a proud bibliophile! I de-stress by reading, my favorite genres are fantasy, science fiction, and even cookbooks. I also curate my book account on Twitter, where I share my love of books and movies. In times of doubt, I try to remember my past successes and read inspirational quotes, I especially love this quote “You are worth so much more than your productivity.” My family and close friends also offer the best motivational talks. Self-care is essential, my goal is to make it a priority and never take it for granted. 

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

My future self. I’m inspired to do better each day physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I must also mention my mother. Her example and mentorship had a huge influence on the formation of my career goals. She encouraged my fascination with science, I still have fond memories of her explaining chemical reactions and equations at the dinner table. Thanks to my mother, chemistry was and still is one of my favorite subjects. 

6. What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Work smart as well as hard because it will pay off in the future. Realize that your challenges and struggles are temporary although it may not feel so. Always remember to confide in family members and close friends, they are your biggest allies. And finally, there are many paths to your dream, so believe in yourself and embrace your unique gifts. Remain committed and practice patience to achieve your goals, ignore the negative. 

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

First and foremost, it’s awesome that you’ve chosen the STEM field!

Find allies within and outside your field. For the longest time, my closest allies were colleagues in other fields like social work, international business and nursing. They were my cheerleaders in difficult and challenging times.

Find a mentor. Mentors can help you develop your career. I’ve had mentors at different times in my career, it makes a big difference. A mentor can also encourage you to join professional organizations that are relevant to your field.

Volunteer your time, energy or skills. This can help with building your network and connecting with people who share your passion and purpose. A couple of initiatives include The STEM Squad and Her STEM Story. Personal branding (marketing yourself and your career as a brand) is also important as you build your STEM career.

8. How do you measure your success? 

I’ve realized that success is relative. The most important lesson is to learn to give yourself grace and celebrate your achievements, whether few or many. Everyone is on a journey and it's uniquely their own. Here are some of my favorite inspirational quotes that show what success to me is. 

“Have courage and be kind.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

“Different paths in life are not always the wrong path.”

“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.”

“Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.” 

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

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

Yes! I would love to connect with young STEM women. I’m active on Twitter @sophieokolo