Women in STEM

INTERVIEW: Cui Wang Ph.D: Microbiology Science Team For MARS

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A few weeks ago, MARS INC. contacted me, asking me to interview four of their Women in STEM.*  Over the next few weeks, their interviews will be posting one by one.

This interview is with Cui Wang, who works in the Global Food Safety Center for MARS in Beijing.

 


 

Q:  Hello, Cui!  Thank you so much for sitting down to answer some of these questions.  I know that our readers are going to find your job in STEM fascinating!  Food safety isn’t always something we talk about until there’s a dangerous bacterial breakout of some kind due to something wrong with our food.

So, to go along with that, my first question is: what sparked your interest in the science of food safety?

 

A:  In line with my original plan to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry, I started out conducting research to support the production of vaccines from fermentation at the beginning of graduate school. However, my interests changed after several serious food safety incidents were reported just after I had my first baby.  

 

I suddenly realized the importance and value of food safety and decided to adjust my career path to help ensure and secure the safety of safe and healthy food. I really hope that I can leverage my expertise to help reduce the risk of food safety issues in the future and this is what I’m working on  together with my fellow Associates at the Mars Global Food Safety Center.

 

I love food and I’m passionate about this space, which definitely helps! Conducting this meaningful work is my passion so I am constantly encouraged to go further.

 

Q:  What steps were taken in order for you to reach your PhD in Applied and Environmental Microbiology?

 

A: I took the opportunity to be a research assistant supporting projects in two national key labs while I was in university and this is where I discovered my interest in Applied and Environmental Biology (AEM) research. I began preparing applications for PhD programs in AEM, which meant taking the TOEFL, GRE tests and going through the interview process, etc. After successfully obtaining a place at Georgia State University, I spent the first two years attending training courses to learn new microbiological lab skills, and designing and writing the proposal for my PhD project based on my committees’ instructions and my interests.

 

At the same time, I was a teaching assistant supporting biology and microbiology courses for major and non-major college students. After passing the necessary exams, I became a senior PhD student and started my proposed project and also took part in other related projects. I trained several Masters and junior PhD students to become team members so that they could support different research projects in areas such as scale-up fermentation, molecular biology, protein purification, anti-fungal research and fruit ripening research. As part of this, I also communicated and collaborated with other senior PhD students, professors, and experts during seminars and conferences, and even through daily work. This helped to accelerate my development through brainstorming projects combined with coaching and mentoring. Of course, conducting experiments and spending a great deal of time in the lab were essential in demonstrating the hypothesis of my proposal. With solid data from these experiments, I passed my dissertation and finally received my PhD.

 

Q:  Can you briefly explain what a day at your job as a microbiology research scientist is like?

 

A:  At the Mars Global Food Safety Center, I conduct scientific research to generate insights and explore solutions for some of the biggest food safety challenges facing the industry today. For example, I am leading several research projects focused on controlling aflatoxins, one of the most potent, naturally occurring liver carcinogens that we know of today.

 

On our planet, 4.5 billion people consume food that contains aflatoxins every day. One of my projects aims to understand the correlation between the reuse of jute bags for ingredient storage (for example maize) and mycotoxin risk. 

 

I also aim to provide practical advice that could be easily adopted by farmers to help them reduce the risk of aflatoxin contamination. To accomplish projects such as this, it is necessary to keep close communication with our global partners, whilst also being able to deliver our work in the lab. During the working day, I design technical plans to achieve the objectives of my projects, train the lab assistants and conduct experiments with them, analyze data, conduct trouble shooting and review the progress of projects. I also communicate food safety information with internal and external resources, and support other team members as a consultant.

 

 

Q:  Something I found interesting about your position is that I was told that it was non-competitive.  So, the information that you discover and research is shared across the world with different partners, so that we can all have access to this information on how to keep our food safer.  That’s a kind of science communication!  Do you find that this non-competitive atmosphere makes your position more enjoyable, and more engaging?  And do you ever learn anything from the partners you work with?

 

A: At the Mars Global Food Safety Center, being non-competitive means that we aim to share and communicate the results of our work in the public domain to help raise the bar for all. This creates a very positive environment for the food industry and the food supply chain, as well as for scientists to conduct their research. We believe that food safety is a basic human right, and we actively seek to work collaboratively with other entities to ensure safer food for all.

 

As a research scientist, in such an atmosphere, I have more space and resources to think, discover, and solve real problems and challenges in food safety. I can communicate and collaborate with other scientists or experts even from other companies or institutions, which makes my work more effective and engaging. In return, I experience great support and encouragement from my partners, and I believe that together we really can help provide more people with access to safe food.

 

Q:  I was told that you were also involved in other forms of science communication.  You work with the ‘China Children and Teenager’s Fund’, and help these kids learn more about food safety.  What does this job entail?  Do you find that your work in this position is fruitful in your area?  Why or why not?

 

A: As a mother of two young boys, I firmly believe that food safety education needs to start from an early age. This could provide life-long benefits to the next generation. I’m very glad that I was able to take part in this mission by providing consultation and expertise to the ‘China National Children’s Food Safety Guard Campaign’, organized by China Nutrition and Health Food Association (CHNFA) and China Children and Teenager Foundation (CCTF). The Mars Global Food Safety Center is a key sponsor and initiator of this collaboration. Through the project, we designed interactive learning toolkits, video and painting books with food safety information for the children. The materials have been rolled out to more than 8 provinces in China, covering tens of thousands of kids, which makes me feel very proud. 

 

Q:  What would you say the biggest challenge in your field is?  Anything in particular?

 

A:  Some of the biggest challenges in food safety come from the global nature of the food supply chain, which today creates many common touch points among industry, regulators, customers, and consumers. More than ever before, food and food ingredients are being shipped around the world.  A food safety issue or risk from one raw material, one company, or one region, can now quickly expand to be a global problem. For example, my research projects related to mycotoxin caused by the fungal contamination of grains such as corn, wheat, and rice, is a big concern for the supply chain globally. That’s why we are trying to work with our global partners in a more collaborative way than ever before. 

 

Q:  Do you have any advice for those looking into pursuing your field of STEM?

 

A:   Follow your real passion and get to know what your true area of interest is. Try to find a mentor or coach throughout your career and use him or her as a role model that can inspire and encourage you to be the best version of yourself.  And in your work life seek out sponsors, people that will look out for you, help plan your career path and work with you to help you realize your full potential. Lastly, do not forget to take a moment to enjoy your life and spend time with your family. 

 

  

*This post was not sponsored by Mars Inc.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.



INTERVIEW: Valerie Maldonado Senior Engineer Process Developer for MARS

 
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A few weeks ago, MARS INC. contacted me, asking me to interview four of their Women in STEM.*  Over the next few weeks, their interviews will be posting one by one.

This interview is with Valerie Maldonado, Fruity Confections CBU Mars Wrigley Confectionery here in the US.

 


 

Q: Valerie, first of all, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions I had for you regarding your STEM job at MARS.


My first question, since your job focuses on the development of new candy, such as Starburst, I have to ask: What does candy have to do with STEM?

 

A: Making chocolate, candy, gum and mints is no different than cooking. Our role in Research & Development (R&D) is to ensure that we deliver high-quality products to millions of consumers all over the world. We have to apply science and engineering to guarantee that every product someone buys and tastes has the same great quality.

 

Q: What was it that first got you interested in STEM? And when did you know you wanted to pursue a career in STEM?

 

A: When I was in the third grade, we had the opportunity to visit a gum and candy factory in my hometown of Caracas, Venezuela as part of a school trip. I was so excited about the opportunity that I made my mom volunteer as a chaperone so that she could come with me too. I still remember the smell of bubblegum when we drove near the factory. That’s when I started becoming interested in how candies are made. My curiosity, along with an interest in math and chemistry, inspired me to pursue my degree in Chemical Engineering.

 
 

 

Q: What steps did you have to take in order to reach your goals in STEM?

 

A: During my undergraduate program in college, I had to work hard to get
through some of my classes as engineering coursework can be quite demanding. Many people are intimidated by the STEM fields because they believe you have to be extremely smart to get through school. Trust me, you will meet very smart people who are scientists and engineers, but the reality is that for the rest of us it takes more discipline and hard work than anything else.


Once I started my career, I was usually the only woman engineer in my teams. I had to learn to be confident and to stand up for what I believe in. Being the only woman in the room can be very intimidating, especially when you first start out in the field – not only are you the only woman, but you’re usually the youngest person. Learning to be persistent has been the key for me in driving my career forward.

 

Q: What exactly does being an “engineering consultant” mean? And in your current position as a “Senior Engineer Process Developer”, can you summarize what you do on a day-to- day basis?

 

A: When I was an engineer consultant, I worked with a team of engineers from all fields (electrical, civil, mechanical and chemical) and construction managers to execute projects at different factories. I had the opportunity to work in a wide variety of industries as the company operated in many fields: my first project was an oil spill cleanup and from there I worked on projects in soap, ice cream and engine oil manufacturing. It was a great place to learn and use the technical skills I had gained from my engineering education.

In my current role as Senior Engineer, Process Development, I’m either in the office, factories, or our pilot plant in Chicago. While I am in the office, I am typically collaborating with different team members working on our future innovations. I have projects that are four years out, but I’m also working on initiatives that are currently getting close to launch.


I travel to our factories across the globe to test new processes and formulas as we work through product and process development. I enjoy going to our factories and working with our teams at the sites to bring the formulations we have tested at a small scale in our Chicago pilot plant to life at scale.

 

Q: What kind of technology and equipment goes into candy making?

 

A: There is a lot of technology that goes into making our products in a consistent manner for millions of consumers all over the world. For making fruity products such as Starburst and Skittles, technology helps us make the toffee base, remove moisture and shape the products into their final form. I have always been impressed by the packaging machines we use for wrapping gum, which can wrap thousands of pieces of gum in one minute and move at such highly efficient speed.

 

Q: When I was told about you, I was told that you’re “an advocate for
emphasizing that you don’t have to be a ‘certain way’ to work in a STEM field”. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?

 

A: There are stereotypes that are attached to the people who pursue careers in the STEM field. Being interested in science hasn’t always been the “cool” thing to do. My sophomore year of college, I met a friend in one of my chemical engineering core classes who later told me he thought I was lost when I entered the classroom the first day. He had firm reasons to think so: women were the minority in engineering classrooms at that time and I am Latina. Throughout my career I’ve been asked if I’m in marketing or sales and people are usually surprised when I say I am an engineer. I strongly believe that regardless of the field you go into, you can be yourself and we should all embrace what is unique about us regardless of stereotypes.

 

Q: If you were to give advice to someone who wanted to work in this field, or a similar one, what would you tell them?

 

A: Studying STEM provides you with a very solid foundation for the rest of your life. I have many friends that have studied engineering who now work in other fields such as sales, marketing, supply chain, etc. and are thankful that
engineering prepared them with the problem solving and analytical skills that
allows them to excel in their careers. STEM fields set you up with a great deal of job possibilities—options that enable you to lead a great life with financial
independence.

  

*This post was not sponsored by Mars Inc.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.



STEM GEMS: A Review of a Book about Women in STEM

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    When kids think of the modern scientist — who do they think of?  Usually, Bill Nye the Science Guy will come to mind (and why not? His catchy theme song has infected the minds of all American kids since 1993).  That …may be it.  Some kids may know of Stephen Hawking, Neil Degrasse Tyson, or Michio Kaku.  

 

    The pattern?  All of these modern day scientists have one thing in common: they are all men.

 

    Stephanie Espy set out to change that.

 

 
 

    Stephanie Espy is a Chemical Engineer and author who decided to shine a light on 44 of today’s modern women scientists.  “I have always been passionate about STEM,”  She writes on her website about why she wrote the book to begin with.  “and I’m equally passionate about getting more girls and young women excited about STEM too. I wrote this book with a mission: to help girls and young women to see their future selves as scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians, and to show them the many diverse options that exist in STEM.”

 

    With this book, she reached her goal and did it spectacularly.

 

    Out of graciousness, I was sent a copy of this book.  Because my life was so hectic, it took me a while to actually get around to reading it, but when I did — I had a hard time putting it down when real life called me to get some work done.  

 

    My first thought was: “Why is this not in every school library?”  

 

 

    These short biographies of these women in STEM give a fun look to their lives, their positions, and their passions.  However, not only did Espy provide 44 role models in STEM from all sorts of walks of life — she does something else for the readers, too. Past all of the bios is advice that Espy has written specifically for the girls who pick up this book.  Advice towards who to get started in STEM, and how to keep up with your goals in these fields.  Taking the stories from the 44 gems, and creating practical guidance from them.

 

    This books is excellently written on top of it all.  It kept my attention, and it taught me about these women effectively.  It’s bound to keep the attention of children in class, and it really should be required reading, or at least suggested reading for science classes.  It would also be an excellent choice for a book report.  

 

    I keep mentioning children reading this, but really, it’s fantastic for all ages.  The writing doesn’t talk down to the reader in the least, and everyone can learn something from it.  My guess is that most people who pick up this book haven’t heard of all of these women — if they’ve heard of any of them to begin with.

 

    Consider supporting Stephanie Espy in her efforts buy purchasing her book here.  You won’t be sorry you did it.  

 

*Mariah was given a copy of this book to read and review for free. This post is otherwise non-sponosered.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.



Opinion: What We Can Take Away From the Instagram OP-ED

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Disclaimer: In the interest of not being hypocritical, FemSTEM will NOT link the article in question (though the title will be mentioned), nor mention the author by name.  That information has gone around enough within the science community, and we do not want to unintentionally promote attacking the article and, more importantly, the author in question.

 

A lot of anger, confusion, and debate was stirred up in the science community on March 15th, 2018 when Science Magazine published an article entitled: “Why I Don’t use Instagram for Science Outreach”.  While the title sounded as though it would be a thoughtful opinion piece on why Instagram may not be the best avenue for science communication, the article instead read as a bitter attack peace for many.

 

It’s easy to see why this article was read that way.  The article compared women and suggested that one method of science communication was more valuable to another’s.  It also had bitter sentences throughout the paragraphs.  

 

The author even admits to her bitterness in the article by saying: “Instead of cheering on Instagram’s dynamic and vibrant #scicomm women, I felt an increasing bitterness with each post I came across […] I realized that I am not bitter toward the authors of these posts […]  I am annoyed that the majority of the posts seem to celebrate a very narrow representation of femininity, my real bitterness comes from the systemic challenges that these posts are working to address …”

 

As of March 17th, both the author and Science Magazine came out with statements apologizing for the article, though the article can still be readily found.  

 

With that said, there are things we can learn from the article and the surrounding controversy; it just might not be what the article initially intended.

 

 

Don’t Pit Women Against One Another

 

 

As mentioned previously, the article directly compared two women.  It compared popular online science communicator Samantha Yammine to an unnamed professor the author knew in person.  

 

“I liken the many hours that Science Sam spends on her Instagram content to the volunteer work a female professor in my department put into organizing a summer program to introduce teens from underrepresented communities to biomedical engineering.” — Direct Quote from Article

 

As far as any reader can tell, these women have similar mindsets and goals — they just go about their science outreach in different ways.  Even if this was not the case — there is nothing healthy about comparing two people and their achievements.  

 

 
 

Dr. Deborah Carr, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, said in an article for Psychology Today: “If we use others as a benchmark to evaluate ourselves, that creeping twinge of jealousy may undermine our ability to truly cherish the good things that come to others.”  

 

Carr then goes on to remind her readers: “Over time, things may even out, and a friend’s success may enable him or her to support and make opportunities for others (including you).”

 

We want to remember that, instead of bringing someone else down, we want to raise one another up.  In the long run, that will provide better, more positive, and longer lasting effects in the community.  We want to remember, too, that this is all of our community.  Tearing someone down, intentionally or not, disrupts the system of the entire collective.  This was clear in the reaction to the Instagram op-ed on Twitter.  It created anger.

 

It is important to note, though, that out of that anger did come some good.  Many fellow scientists and science communicators came to Yammine’s defense and support in the wake of the article. 

 

 

It’s Okay To Have an Opinion, but How You Present it is Extremely Important

 

It is, by no means, a bad thing to have a negative opinion on Instagram or social media in general.  It can be argued (and has been) that social media can be bad for the general state of human health.  Of course, however, everyone reacts to social media differently, and everyone interacts with social media differently.  

 

There is no fault with the author for not thinking that social media is not an effective or good way to go about science communication.  The fault lies with how it was presented.

 

Samantha Yammine was used as an example of science communication through social media from the very first sentence of the Science article.  Afterwards, Yammine was mentioned by her social media persona three more times in the short, 600-word article.  The entire time, Yammine seemed to be presented in a negative light.  

 

Because this article portrayed a negative opinion of a harmless activity, the usage of one example, and outright naming that example, read as an attack.  If the article was otherwise well-written and thought out, it was overcast by what came across as an attack.  

 

On another note, the article never had evidence that backed any of the author’s claims.  There are no links to studies or sources, and there was no research conducted to see if the act of science communication on Instagram could produce positive effects on the public.  It came across as completely baseless, and as a result, purely pessimistic and assaulting to those who enjoy and find good results from their social media usage. 

 

The world needs differing opinions, but those opinions must have structure and foundations, and they must be presented in a professional way.

 

 

We Can Learn From Our Faulty Judgment and From Other’s Errors

 

The reality is that a reputable online magazine should never have posted this piece.  The reality is that this op-ed never should have been penned the way it was.  To call it a ‘mistake’ may be being generous, as the article had been thought out by the author, and then read and edited several times by the employees of Science Magazine.

 

However,  with every negative experience can come a lesson.  That doesn’t make this okay — none of it was.  With that said, us — as the readers, the reviewers, and the critics — can use this to help ourselves become more aware of our own actions.  To use this as an example of what NOT to do.  To look at this and examine ourselves, our own motives, and use this to teach us how to lift someone up rather than to take them down.

 

Hopefully, Science Magazine will do as they say and will “examine [their] editorial process for these pieces moving forward” in a thoughtful and profound way.  We cannot count on that, however.  The only thing we can count on is how we react to situations like this, and how we move past this.

 

Samantha Yammine, who says she will be writing and submitting her rebuttal to an unknown magazine, has taken the entire situation in stride.  

 

 
 

 

Let’s all look at this as an opportunity to learn, and let the science community as a whole become stronger as a result.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


 

A Science Communication Consultation and Training Company Is On the Rise — and Needs Your Support

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Science Communication is something that is a hot topic these days.  The communication to the public about science is extremely important, because everyone is effected by science in their daily lives.  Proper science communication can change how the public looks at the world, how the world governments decide to act on certain issues, and can help in bettering the wellbeing of humans, animals, and plant life.

 

 

However, science communication is not the easiest thing in the world.  Not by a long shot.  There’s miscommunication, the boasting of bad studies, and some scientists don’t know how to go about science communication to the public at all.  While all scientists are definetely not required to communicate their science to the public, a lot of them want to learn.

 

 

That’s where SCIENCE ART FUSION comes in. 

 

 

Science Art Fusion is a ‘science communication consultation company that aims to bridge the gap between science and the creative and performing arts’, says Founder RK Pendergrass.

 

 

Earlier in March, she began a GoFundMe campaign hoping to raise money so that Pendergrass can create online courses “that goes into the nitty-gritty of narrative structure and what makes some stories so universally appealing, and helps science communicators figure out the best ways to apply these narrative skills to their outreach efforts”

 

 

Pendergrass herself is a professional performer and creative writer with over ten years of experience in these fields.  She says that she wanted to help share her knowledge with the science community “after seeing the importance of narrative being brought up time and again at science conferences and in discussions about science communication”.  

 

 

Pendergrass truly believes that there’s value in this knowledge for the science community, and believes that this type of art can be very helpful in getting this very important communication across.

 

 

In the two weeks that SCIENCE ART FUSION’S campaign has been online, Pendergrass has thus earned over $1,500 towards her 20K goal.  As she notes, starting a company is incredibly expensive.  Between the LLC cost, the cost of equipment, the cost of a website, and more.  Her hope is to raise $3,500 a month in order to support the website and herself up until August.    She wants to help hire and support other science communicators as well in the future to help continue to “bridge the gap” between the communications and their respective audiences.

 

 

Interested in helping out?  You can check out the GoFundMe here, or email RK Pendergrass at prelaunch@scienceartfuision.com for more information!

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

 

Taylor Richardson Does it Again: $100,000 Raised For Girls to See A Wrinkle In Time

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This was edited on March 7th, 2017 at 9:07PM

 

In case you missed it, when Hidden Figures released in 2016, Taylor Richardson was the girl who raised over $20,000 so that 1000 girls could see the movie for free.  Her hope was to encourage girls to get into STEM by being able to watch the likes of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson on the big screen. 

 

 
 

    When A Wrinkle in Time was announced, a movie based on the hit middle-grade sci-fi from 1962, Taylor Richardson did the same thing.  Only this time, she raised $50,000 for girls to see the movie for free when it releases on March 9th, 2018.

 

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    Why was Taylor so enthused about girls seeing A Wrinkle in Time in theaters?  She explained on her GoFundMe page.

 

    “1. It shows young, black girls deserving a chance to be a part of the scifi cultural canon,”   She begins.  2. It has a female protagonist in a science fiction film. A brown girl front and center who looks like me in the role of Meg, a girl traveling to different planets and encountering beings and situations that I’d never seen a girl of color in. 3. Most impressive and importantly, it’s a fantasy film that is not about some white boys fighting evil, but about a black girl overcoming it.”

 

 
 

    Since the start of her campaign on November 13th, for Taylor everything has been a crazy and memorable ride.  Disney caught sight of her, and as a result, Taylor was able to attend the premiere.  She was able to meet the director of the film,  Ava DuVernay, actress Oprah Winfrey, and actor Chris Pine, among others.

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    Notable people who donated to her campaign included JJ Abrams and his wife Katie McGrath.  “Thanks to the kindness of many of you and a very generous donation from JJ Abrams and his wife Katie McGrath,”  Taylor wrote in an update on her GoFundMe. “I have exceeded my goal to send a 1000 girls 2 see the upcoming movie A Wrinkle In Time!”

 

 

    On top of that, aforementioned actor Chris Pine, who stars in the film as Dr. Alex Murray (the main character’s — Meg Murray’s — father), matched Taylor’s raised $25,000 — bringing Taylor’s efforts to her massive $50,000 to send girls to watch the movie, as well as help them purchase and read the original novel.  

 

 
 
 
 

    We applaud Taylor for her constant efforts and constant successes in bringing more and more girls into the world of STEM through positive media.

 

EDIT:  In an incredible update -- Oprah Winfrey, who stars in the movie as Mrs. Which, matched the $50,000 Taylor Richardson made -- giving Taylor's GoFundMe a over $100,000!  As of 9:00pm on March 7th, the GoFundMe total is $100,639!

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

 

Interview: Harshita Arora and Her App Crypto Price Tracker

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Back in the last month of 2017, it felt like the only thing we were hearing about was the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Though it had started the year being worth $1,000, it had a huge spike in December that sparked the news media, having reached a worth of $17,000.

 

Bitcoin may be the most popular cryptocurrency (at least in the United States), but it is far from the only cryptocurrency in circulation.  It can be hard enough to keep track of Bitcoin, let alone the hundreds of other types of cryptocurrency around the world.  However, as the world starts to become interested in the world of cryptocurrency, and as the world begins to lean on it, it’s important to keep track of its real world worth.

 

Harshita Arora, a 16-year-old coder, created an application just for that.

 

 
 
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Crypto Price Tracker, which made it to Apple’s App Store Top Charts, was published just last month on January 28th, 2018.  Harshita, the mastermind behind the app, was kind enough to offer me a free version of the application in order to review it.*  Honestly, the app was incredible.  It was smooth; it functioned well; there were no crashes or bugs that I could see.  It’s a simple app, but it’s simplicity doesn’t take away from it’s beauty — in fact, it may just add to it.

 

DOWNLOAD THE APP FOR IOS

 

After viewing the app and playing around with it, I decided to ask if Harshita would be willing to answer some of my questions about the application.  She was completely willing to!

 

Q: First of all, I want to thank you for being willing to sit down and answer these questions! I think that our readers will throughly enjoy this! 

 

A: Thank you so much for having me! I hope my answers will help people! (: 

 

Q: What inspired you to design this application in the first place? And what got you interested in Cryptocurrency? 

 

A: I’ve shared my story of what inspired me to create Crypto Price Tracker here. In short, I was frustrated of using horribly-designed price tracking apps (not to mention, full of ads) with often inaccurate prices and alerts. I researched more and identified that there was a market need for a better and improved app. So I went ahead and created one :D


I remember the first time I came across the term cryptocurrency was in 2016. I read an article in a tech magazine (Digit) about Bitcoin and Bitcoin mining. Blockchain and building software on blockchain framework was a very interesting concept and business opportunity. Though, I never got around to building products in the field, as I was working on other projects. But in 2017, cryptos were just everywhere online. My Facebook and Quora feed were flooded with content related to cryptos and blockchain. So I started reading more online and got interested in cryptos. 

 

Q: What is the general goal of your application? 

 

A: Crypto Price Tracker helps users track prices of 1000+ cryptocurrencies from over 19 exchanges, set price alerts, manage crypto portfolio, and much more. The goal I had when I started out was to create one app where people can find and do everything they want to, to keep themselves up-to-date with cryptocurrencies and their prices, and manage their portfolio if they’ve invested in cryptos. 

 

 
 
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Q: How long did it take for you to code, design, and develop this application before it was ready to submit?

 

A: I started in November 2017 and I released the app on 28th January 2018. So it was a 2-3 months long journey from start to finish. It’s been an interesting ride! I’ve shared the journey until launch here in this post. I’m writing a post on launching, marketing, and getting feedback. 

 

 

Q: What was the beginning process of developing an application like this? Did you write the code from scratch, or use some sort of base? Was this for a classroom project, or just in your free time? 

 

A: The process started with having a product spec so that I know what features will go into the app. Then I began drawing user-flow diagrams and wireframes for each screen. I then designed all screens using Affinity Designer. That process took 3-4 weeks. I’ve shared my learnings and advice on how to design beautiful apps in this post. 

 

After designs were ready and imported in Xcode, that’s when I moved on to coding. Developing iOS apps is a lot of fun and the code was written from scratch. I used a lot of libraries, frameworks, and cocoapods. Mainly: SwiftyJSON, Alamofire, Charts, Popup Dialog, and CoreData. I couldn’t have developed the app without my mentors, Aviral and Bhavish. They were super critical in coding the app. And my friend, Harsh built the back-end on Firebase. 

 

It was not a classroom project since I do not go to school. I’ve been an unschooler for 1.5 years. Crypto Price Tracker is my first solo app. 

 

Q: How did you learn how to code, and what makes you so passionate about coding? 

 

A: I learned digital design and app design when I was 14 from my CS teacher. He’d assign really interesting projects to build, to give students real world design experience. He introduced me to Google’s Scratch and MIT App Inventor. I used to play around with them all day, for months, and that’s where I learnt basic programming concepts and built projects. Then I got the opportunity to intern at Salesforce in winter 2016 – which is where I got exposure to working in tech for the first time. 

 

I love designing and building products. And being able to build valuable software that solves a market need is a super fun and rewarding process. 

 

 
 

Q: Are you looking forward to creating new applications as well? And will they be long similar lines, or do you have new ideas that have nothing to do with Cryptocurrency? 

 

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A: Yes! I’ve recently started working on an AI app with a friend. It’s an app in Health and Fitness – so a completely different market. I’d be sharing more on this app on my Medium in a few weeks! 

 

Q: Have you received a lot of positive feedback and support from anyone in particular? Strangers reviewing the application, or family members and friends? 

 

A: Yes! When I started out with this app, 5-6 of my friends in crypto helped me understand a lot of terms and concepts in crypto and helped me a lot in figuring out the features that people/users want. When I had a prototype in Adobe XD, I asked my friends to test it out and they gave a lot of positive feedback and suggestions for improvements. ~50 of my friends tested the beta when it was on TestFlight, which was 1 week prior to planned submission. I never got any strangers to test the app until v1.0 release. After the release, my inbox was flooded with emails from happy users sharing feedback and things to work on. 

 

Q: Would you call the application an overall success and a driving point in your coding career? Why? 

 

A: I think Crypto Price Tracker has been pretty successful in acquiring users and retaining them. I’ve gotten 1,500+ downloads in 2 weeks. It was #2 app in Finance in the App Store top charts for paid apps within 24 hours of launch. It was featured on Product Hunt. A post about it on reddit got a lot of virality. And tons more good things have happened! I’m also getting acquisition offers right now. I’d say yes, it was definitely a driving point in my career in tech. 

 

Q: What would you say as a word of advice to anyone looking to get into coding themselves? 

 

A: Something I wish more people knew is that there’s a lot of resources online to ask questions if you get stuck. My favorite website is codementor.io. I’ve met a few of my coding mentors on the platform when I had questions. 

Another useful resource to ask questions (though you can’t get 1-on-1 mentoring) would be: Quora, reddit, StackOverflow. 

When learning to code, and especially if you’re self-learning with online courses and books, you will get stuck a lot. Knowing where to ask questions from more experience programmers and developers can help a lot! 

 

I cannot recommend downloading this application enough.  Even if you don’t know anything about cryptocurrency, it’s amazing to see this young woman excel at what she loves to do — and to help support her.  You can download the app on IOS devices here.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

 

A Thank You to Melissa C Marquez

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An Open Letter to Melissa C. Márquez,

 

It was February of last year when you approached me about writing #STEMSaturdays. Ever since then, I haven't been able to thank you enough.  I remember distinctly holding myself back from emailing you back right away -- my excitement easily gets the best of me and I didn't want to seem too eager.

 

At that point, my website had been around for a little over a month.  I had been let go from one writing job, was getting ready to quit another because of the bad working conditions, and found myself jobless and just trying to see if I could make my website go anywhere.  Part of me was excited, part of me was heartbroken.  I'm not convinced, at all, that I would have the traction that I have had on this website without your help.  You have helped this site gain thousands of views, you have started great conversations on Twitter, and you have supported me through this rollercoaster.

 

Honestly, the best part is that you and I will be continuing to work together throughout this year -- and hopefully continuing on to the future.

 
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You didn't have to contact me, or put all of the effort that you did into the articles you wrote for this site.  My goodness, you had (and still have) so much going on in your professional and personal life.  You had an amazing TEDX Talk to write, rehearse, and travel for.  That's a much bigger stage for you than anything I've been able to provide since this site, as of January 16th, will only be a year old.  An infant.  Yet, you still put a ton of effort into your writings for FemSTEM, and it shows.  I know everyone who reads your articles can agree with me there.  There's so much to them; so much wonderful advice and heartwarming notes of inspiration.  A great reminder that if you put your mind to it, you can do it.  A reminder that your obstacles are there, but you can overcome them, or at least work around them.  A great reminder than your mental health has to be a priority, and that we don't talk about that in academia as much as we ought to.

 

I've taken your advice for myself, particularly along the lines of networking.  It's helped me out tremendously.  I have business cards, and brochures, and I've been invited to events in order to network further.  Your advice, that you didn't write for me, but for the audience, has been invaluable.  I just hope others have taken steps towards your advice, as well.  In fact, I'm confident that they have.

 

You are, and always will be, a huge asset to me and to FemSTEM, as well as the female science community.  I plan to continue to support you, as you have done an amazing amount for me.  I will never be able to thank you enough.

 

I still want to try, though.

 

Thank you for being such a huge part of FemSTEM's identity.
Thank you so much for being so supportive.
Thank you for all the advice.
And thank you for everything else.

 

-- Mariah Loeber
Founder of FemSTEM.com
And always in debt to you.

 

VISIT MELISSA'S TWITTER HERE

 

Interview: Emily Beasley and the Behavioral Ecology of Gulls


 

When you think of scientists studying animals, the first think you think of might not be a seagull.  Especially since, as we mention later, gulls tend to get somewhat of a bad reputation.  You think of gulls and you think of annoying pests on the beach, trying to steal your french fries.  But this scientist doesn't see gulls as the average beach-goer might.

 

Meet Emily Beasley, a Behavioral Ecologist who is most interested in studying seagulls, and loves to do it.  We talked to her earlier this month, asking her about her job and how she entered the field in the first place, and what specifically she has learned in her study of seagulls.

 

 

Q:  First of all, to start things off, Emily, I want to say thank you for sitting down with me today and taking time out of your day to answer some of our questions! I know you've been extremely busy lately, so this means a lot! I’m sure our readers will enjoy this throughly.

 

A: It’s my pleasure!

 

Q:  I want to start off with a basic question about what you do.  So your field of study is Behavioral Ecology, which is the study of animal behavior as related to adaption, causation, and development, correct? 

 

A: Yes, that’s exactly right.  It also involves examining how environmental factors impact on changes in animal behavior.

 

Q:  Very cool.  This kind of science has always been right up my alley.  So I’m curious: How did you find yourself in this field of study and how long have you been researching animal behavior?

 

A: I’ve always loved animals and have had pets all my life.  I started riding horses when I was ten and eventually I got a job doing barn chores and teaching riding lessons.  But it really took shape for me when I was an undergraduate student.  I got the opportunity to work at a pet store that did a lot of animal adoptions, and we also hand-raised baby parrots.

 

For my undergraduate dissertation I did a research project on the impact of ecological validity in puzzle solving abilities of Congo African Parrots.  My supervisor at the time, Professor Maryanne Fisher, connected me with Professor Tom Dickens who runs a field trip to Lundy Island in the UK every year.  I did the field study and absolutely loved it.  I spent a lot of time with Dr. Rob Spencer  watching a gull colony on the island and I was hooked.

 

When it came time for me to apply to grad school, there was an opportunity to work with Tom and Rob again at Middlesex University in London.

 

Q: All of that sounds extremely fascinating and really, really fun.  Especially the opportunity to do the field study.  That must’ve been a fantastic trip — I can’t even imagine. What’s your favorite part about the process of studying animal behavior?  Do you have a favorite step, or something else about the research that you enjoy the most? 

 

A: It was wonderful.  I’ve been back to Lundy every year since that first trip and I still love it.

I really enjoy collecting data.  Being in the field is my favorite place to be, whether it’s in a city looking at urban wildlife or on a remote island watching seabirds.  A lot of work foes into developing and piloting a project before you can go out and collect data, so it’s really rewarding when you see all of your efforts come together.  It’s also a chance to observe the animals in their natural environment and see how they interact with each other and the environment.  You can learn a lot by just attentively watching your study species.

 

Q: Oh, I bet.  As kids, when you’re watching animals in your own backyard you can learn a lot, so I can’t even imagine how much you’d be able to learn on a trip like that!  Judging by your twitter, your favorite animal to study are birds.  And it would appear that you have a project going on right now to study gulls in urban areas!  What specifically are you hoping to learn with this project?

 

A:  Yes, they definetely are my favorite!

I actually just finished my Master of Science by Research degree from Middlesex.  I was studying a population of Lesser Black-backed gulls and Herring gulls in Bath, England.  I was interested in gull-human interactions, and gull populations dynamics across the breeding season.

I collected data for 5 months over the 2017 breeding season.  What I found was that the population of foraging gulls in the city fluctuated throughout the breeding season.

The phases in the breeding season were divided by major events that generally happen around the same time every year.  The phases are:

 

1 — Settling; when the adult gulls return to the breeding sites.

2 — Laying; when the females lay their eggs.

3 — Incubation; incubation of the eggs, which is shared by both parents in my study species.

4 — Rearing; once the chicks have hatched and the parents start to provision them.  And finally:

5 — Fledging; when the chicks leave the next and learn to forage on their own.

 

There tended to be more gulls in town during the rearing and fledging phases.  This was likely because there was pressure on the adult gulls to provision their growing chicks with more food.

 

The key findings with regards to gull nuisance behavior were that there was no gull aggression towards humans at all during the course of the breeding season. Gull nuisance occurred more frequently near the end of the breeding season, when the chicks were beginning to fledge, but even then I didn’t observe much nuisance behavior.

 

Gulls get a bit of a bad reputation, but they’re actually very intelligent, long-lived birds.  Also, all species of breeding gulls in the UK are considered birds of conservation, concern, and the Herring gull is red listed (globally threatened) due to severe declines in their national breeding populations, so it’s really important that people work together to help these gulls instead of vilify them.

 

Q:  Okay — so this project had already taken place then.  All of that is really incredible, actually.  And I agree with you; there are a lot of animals we tend to vilify solely because of ignorance.  But when you think about animals who have a bad rap, you tend to think of animals like sharks, or predator-creatures, and there tend to be more people on the side of trying to get them to have a better reputation than on an animal like the gull.  So I think this is really important research you did, and I need to admit it wasn’t even something I had thought about on my own.  I’d love to hear more about this at another time!  Are you planning on publishing this research?

 

And then, if you were to give advice to someone looking to enter the same field of research as you, what do you think you would tell them?

 

A:  I totally agree with you!  Thank you — there are a lot of great gull and seabird researchers in the UK trying to spread knowledge and I want to contribute as much as I can.  I would like to get it published.  I think it’s important to share what we’re doing as researchers with the rest of the academic community and with the non-academic community, too.

 

I’d say take opportunities as they come and always be open to new experiences.  Try to put yourself in situations where you are building skills that you would like to have, but also meeting people who are interested and already working in a field you want to enter.  You never know who you’re going to meet while you’re at a conference or volunteering.  Put yourself out there, do what you love, and share your passion with others.

 

Q:  I think that’s good advice!  Thank you so, so much for joining me again, Emily.  Really.  It’s been a really interesting chat, and I had a really nice time!

 

A:  I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you.  Thank you for your interest!

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

Osteoarchaeologist Stephanie Jan Hamholfer Talks Her Career and How She Got Here

 

There’s a lot of ways that we can learn about our past and, in turn, our future.  One of those ways is by studying bones — our bones.  Or — rather — the bones of the deceased.

 

Meet Stephanie Jan Hamholfer. She is an Osteoarchaeologist based out of Canada.  She has an Associate of Arts degree in Criminology from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from the University of Alberta.  Currently, she is gaining her Masters at the University of Toronto.

 

Stephanie also has her own blog where you can read about her life and her studies here

 

Recently, I caught up with Stephanie and asked her some questions about her career in osteoarchaeology, and how she got there.

 

Q: I want to start off by telling you again how much I appreciate you getting in touch with us and your willingness to sit down and chat with me!  Thank you very much!  I really think our readers will get a lot out of learning about what it is you do! 

So your current focus is on human osteoarchaeology, or biological anthropology.  That seems to be kind of a unique field of study.  Would you like to briefly explain what that is for anyone who may not know?

 

A:  Sure!  Osteoarchaeology/Bioarchaeology is the study of human skeletal remains from archaeological sites.  Basically we're archaeologists with specialized skills and knowledge in excavating and interpreting human skeletons.  I use a book analogy.  Our skeletons are like books written in a language osteoarchaeologists are trained to read.  So we can study skeletal remains and find out about things like height, illness, trauma, occupations, diets, places we've lived, etc.

 

Q: That’s neat! I think people can be generally unaware of just how much you can learn from studying human bones. Everything you mentioned there is really a lot of information!

So I’d like to ask what made you interested in human osteoarchaeology in the first place?  Was it a particular teacher you had, or something you stumbled across that peaked your interest?

 

A:  I definitely stumbled into it, hahaha!  I was actually studying criminology at university and I had to fill some electives.  I had always been a bit curious about archaeology, so I signed up for that.  During the same semester there was a forensic anthropology course being offered.  I had never heard of forensic anthropology before but the course description sounded interesting so I went for it.  And I fell in love!  I finished up with criminology and decided to start over pursuing osteoarchaeology.

 

It was a combination of course content and a fantastic archaeology professor which definitely cemented my interest.

 

Once I realized I loved forensic anthropology and archaeology I wondered if there was a way for me to combine the two.  I had the opportunity to write a paper about the Franklin Expedition and that was when I realized that osteoarchaeology was a real career I could pursue!

 
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Q: Isn’t that funny how those things work, and how you think you’re going one way until you completely fall in love with something else? That’s a cool story, and it’s great that you had an excellent professor on top of it. That always helps.

But your twitter bio and your blog even proudly state that you’re “shark obsessed”! Is there a particular reason you decided to go into criminology and later anthropology instead of maybe studying to become a marine biologist?

 

A: To be honest I wasn't really sure of where to find shark-related marine biology programs that weren't in Florida or Australia (which I wouldn't be able to afford to attend).  I'm a first-generation university student so a lot of my university-related time has been spent simply trying to understand how the system(s) work!  By the time I had sorted things out archaeology had definitely become a more attainable goal that I was passionate about.  So now I happily advocate for shark research and shark conservation from the sidelines.  Though I definitely would love the opportunity to head out on a research vessel one day…

 

I follow a lot of shark research groups and scientists on social media and that's a way for me to feel like I'm still part of the community.

 

Q: That’s nice, and it’s also a good example to show that we can be interested in several different kinds of scientific studies. We don’t have to just stick to just one.  Hopefully you will get an opportunity to be on a research vessel! I’d imagine that’s incredibly cool!

So, I had a question about when you decided you wanted to pursue this route, but you kind of already answered that with your story about how you stumbled across osteoarchaeology in the first place! So how about I ask you about how you were featured in Science Magazine!

That’s awesome that you were featured, by the way. Congratulations!

So you were asked to advocate for your field in six words or less by Science Magazine.  You said: “The past shows us the future”.  I think that’s a great answer.  Would you like to elaborate on your thought process a bit for our readers?

 

A:  Thanks!  Science was a happy surprise, I didn't realize they had featured my response until my husband's lab colleague texted him, who texted me, hahaha!

Our society today is built on decisions made and actions taken in the past.  Archaeologists are kind of like human time-machines - we have a unique ability to "go back in time" and see the outcomes of decisions and actions, and in many cases we can also work out what the influences may have been.  We can look at the many different situations faced by people in the past, see how they reacted to them (or sometimes how they developed them), and see what worked and what didn't work.  Our society today faces many similar situations.  So if we can see what worked/didn't work in the past, we might be able to develop strategies to mitigate the present (situations like disease en/epidemics, climate change, food production, etc.).

 

 
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Q: I think we can all agree on that. And I think it’s too often that we don’t take what we’ve learned about the past and apply it to our future. What you do is very important to our society today, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I truly appreciate the research that you do!

So what would you say to anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in osteoarchaeology like you have?  Do you have any particular advice?

 

A:  I would tell them to look for any opportunity they can get for hands on experience!  Try to find a university with osteology courses and be sure to take as many of those courses as you can.  And look for any volunteer experience you can get, don't be afraid to send out emails to profs to ask if they might have any projects for volunteers!

 

Everyone’s path is different so what worked for one person may not work for the next. So I would also say to develop a plan that works best for you, in your situation, and don't be afraid to pursue it!

 

Q:  I think that is some very good advice!

Thanks so much for sitting down with me today and taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me. I’m sure our readers will really enjoy this, and it means a lot to me. It was such an honor and so interesting to talk with you about this for a little while.

 

A:  Thank you very much for the chance to talk!  I enjoyed it very much and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to help spread the word about this awesome field!

 

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.