Outstanding Alumna- Erin Strickland

Erin Strickland is an EKU alumna who studied forensic science, mathmatics, and physics as an undergraduate. She continued her education at Duke University, and has very recently completed her PhD in Chemistry. Erin told us more about this amazing accomplishment and the circumstances that led her to pursue a career in science.

You recently completed a PhD at Duke University. What type of scholarship had you been working on?

Yes, I just completed my PhD in Chemistry at Duke.  My research focused on studying protein-ligand interactions and improving assays to detect and quantify those interactions. Ligands are typically drugs and studying these interactions is important in understanding the drug mode-of-action, how the drug works and its side-effects.  The easier it is to detect all of these protein-drug interactions, the easier it will be predict and better understand a particular drug’s side-effects.  In particular, I worked with a common breast cancer drug, Tamoxifen, to better understand the side-effects of this drug, by using yeast as model.  This research is now starting to move into human cell lines.  Mass spectrometry was the main analytical instrument we used in this research.

Now that you’ve graduated with your PhD, what are your plans for the future?  

I recently (as of today, June 17th) started working for Ameritox, a company that performs medical patient drug testing.  I am currently a Research & Development Post-Doctoral Scientist.  I will be continuing working with mass spectrometers and working to improve the methodology, mostly to save the company time and money, but also to modify methods to make them more robust and develop new methods as needed as new drugs and samples types are added.  Currently this is a temporary position.  After the ~1 year is up, I am not sure what will happen just yet, I haven’t started planning that far yet.  It is possible that I could get hired on at Ameritox as a permanent full-time employee or maybe I will find something else I would like to try, like perhaps going back to my forensic roots.

What are the opportunities, challenges, and influences that motivated you to become a scientist?

I am not sure if I can point to any one event or one thing that drew me to science, but it was more science as a whole and from a young age, I always liked getting my hands dirty, cooking and baking or helping my dad work on the cars.  I think since I enjoyed those activities so much, I just naturally had an inclination towards science.  I also tend to be restless and get easily bored with the same thing over and over again.  Science provided the intellectual stimulation that I really desired because it is always changing and evolving, nothing is ever stagnant.  I also found it challenging, because while in general I did well in school, science was not always my best subject, so it challenged me to work harder and I found more satisfaction when I did well in science compared to the other subjects that I did not need to work as hard at.

How do you think your experiences as a student at Eastern have influenced you?

The biggest influence at Eastern came from the professors I had.  All of the professors I had were excellent educators and provided wonderful support while I was choosing my future path and helped me get there.  The chemistry and forensic science professors really did help provide a great program for me and I think even for students today.  They helped me almost get an internship at the FBI and when that was not successful, they helped me find an equally awesome and maybe better opportunity at Penn State that was a Crime Scene Investigation course.  The labs that went with the courses I took were also excellent and provided experience that was applicable hands-on experience that was useful for graduate school and I am now finding useful for my new job.  In general, I think the whole Eastern experience has influenced me in one way or another.  Whether it was helping provide the necessary knowledge, skills, and confidence to succeed in graduate school, as a teaching assistant, and hopefully now at my new job, I think Eastern was an excellent educational experience for me.

Why do you think more women don’t choose to pursue careers in science? 

What do you think might draw more women into the STEM fields? – I think sometimes it is still seen with the stigma as a male dominant field and even in certain STEM fields that they are not as capable as men.  However, from my experience the STEM fields are steadily growing more popular with women, some more than others, but in general, I don’t think the STEM fields are as male dominant as they were.  I am also not sure if even at a young age the STEM fields are shown to be an area for women.  How often do children learn about Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, or Sally Ride?  Typically we hear about the men, Albert Einstein, Watson and Crick, Neil Armstrong, etc.  If a young girl is only hearing about men in the STEM fields, how will they find the motivation to go into those fields without role models?  Unless they know of a woman in the STEM fields or have someone to encourage them to be anything and help foster the STEM fields, they may likely find another passion.  I think it will be integral that the textbooks and the teaching reflect more of the women who were integral in the STEM fields then and now will be important to help inspire today’s young girls and women to pursue something they never would have imagined before.  There are plenty of examples throughout history of extraordinary women in STEM, but we rarely show that to the world, and more importantly to the young girls and women of today.

Do you have any advice for current EKU students?

Most importantly, Never Back Down.  While in graduate school, I failed one of my major exams, but was luckily given the opportunity to re-take to remain in graduate school.  However, I seriously considered quitting at that point and thinking that I didn’t know what I was getting into and that I wasn’t good enough.  After taking a few days to think about it and heeding the encouragement of my advisor, I decided to work hard and passed my re-examination with flying colors and proved to myself that I shouldn’t stop or back away when something doesn’t go quite as planned.  I look back now and I am so glad that I didn’t quit because I have achieved something that no one else in my family has done and I have been able to land a great job.  Secondly, never limit your horizons or dreams.  If you can see yourself doing it and set a plan on how to achieve that goal, then don’t let anyone ever discourage you from it.  Utilize your professors, they are your most valuable resource in helping you reach your goals and dreams.  Also, in particular for STEM fields read as much as you can about the field and learn about the contemporaries and the current research.  There is no substitute for reading journal articles and books.  And finally, always ask questions; find a way to satisfy your curiosity.

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Categories: Alumni Spotlight


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