Meet Sarah, a mathematical biologist currently applying her statistical skills as a biostatistician and data analyst for the American Board of Family Medicine in the research department. Inspired and supported by family and friends, Sarah's interest in STEM goes as far back as she can remember and ultimately led her to pursue a technical career path. She has a BS in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a MS in Mathematics with an area of emphasis in Applied Mathematics from West Virginia University.
Mathematical Biologist (n) - a professional who utilizes theoretical analysis, mathematical models and abstractions of living organisms to investigate principles that govern the structure, development and behavior of systems
Sarah shared that, when she was growing up, her mom would quote her grandmother, saying, "Women are good at math and science." A powerful message for impressionable young girls, and it definitely stuck with Sarah. She said that, in high school, she developed a particular interest in the natural sciences, but she didn't fully realize her interest in mathematics until her junior year of college: "I stayed engaged because most of my friends in college were Biology majors and when I started taking math courses, I had a couple of excellent female mathematics mentors who really took a chance on me and introduced me to the interdisciplinary world of mathematical biology." After graduating, Sarah worked as a lab tech in a pharmacology lab, but what she really wanted was to find a way to incorporate math. She summed up clearly how she landed on her career path: "In some ways my lack of desire to be engaged in my previous interest really solidified my current and continual interest in mathematical biology and biostatistics."
In her current position with the American Board of Family Medicine, Sarah does health services research with both survey data from board certified family physicians and primary care electronic health records data. She has access to huge data sets and the opportunity to work with visiting scholars whom she supports by performing analysis for a variety of researchers in different stages of their careers. She listens to each scholar's research question and devises a statistical plan for them - a "fun and creative process" for Sarah! While some of the work is tedious (i.e. lots of data cleaning for the big data sets), Sarah says that it's very satisfying when everything works correctly. That also means it can be frustrating when it doesn't work out, but overall the job is a great combination of Sarah's interests and background in medicine and statistics.When asked what she would say to inspire young girls to pursue a STEM degree program or future career, Sarah said:
"Sample a variety of types of STEM, especially in your first year of college or in high school if you have the opportunity. Subjects you may have found boring in high school might have just been that specific subject. For instance, I have never really liked algebra, but primary and secondary school is very algebra heavy for math. It wasn't until I had taken a couple of calculus classes that I got into it and saw myself having a math-related career.
Furthermore, pay attention to the world around you. You are surrounded by science and small observations can spark an entire career or at least influence a specific degree.
Also, make friends in your classes. In both my math and biology classes, having a variety of perspectives to figure out problems makes a world of difference and may open your mind up to a new way of viewing a topic. STEM is supposed to be collaborative and as a woman in STEM, that support system will help solidify confidence in the field. I would not have been able to survive all of my lab practices or even come up with all of the proofs I had to write without the help of a fellow classmate's perspective."
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