Scientists come from a huge variety of backgrounds. Through Scientists of New York (ScioNY), we hope to change the stereotypical perceptions of what a scientist looks like and highlight the diversity of STEM professionals in NYC.
“I grew up in a rural town called Dragona, on the outskirts of Rome not far from the seaside. We had goats, still have chickens, vegetables and fruit gardens, make our own wine, tomato sauce and cheese. I spent a lot of time sitting on a fig tree; I would climb to the highest branch I could reach and sit there reading. Everything in New York is almost the complete opposite, most noticeably the pace of life and concept of time.”
“I grew up in rural PA where my grandparents have a farm. I’m the first person in my family to go to college and the first person in my extended family to go for a PhD. My family is always amazed that I can live in NYC, but I love it here. I’m a diehard foodie, so NYC is the place to be. Plus it isn’t too far from home when I want to go back.”
“Being a scientist allows us to be a part of a secret world that very few people are privy to. I was very interested in the concept of reality – of how we know what’s real, whether animals have a reality and whether animal reality is same as ours. Being a scientist to me means having the tools to uncover and understand a small part of that.”
“I was born in Austin, Texas, grew up in France, went back to Texas for undergrad, and did my PhD in Barcelona, Spain. NYC is quite different from both Texas and Barcelona, in many ways. Public transportation makes it feel more European than Texas, but it is very much America. I feel privileged that my position in society is to figure out the unknowns of the world around us. I have always been fascinated by figuring out how things work, and living systems are the most fascinating of all.”
Steven Lewis sat down with Dr. Shai Shaham, head of the Laboratory of Developmental Genetics at Rockefeller University, to discuss how growing up surrounded by both science and music has shaped Dr. Shaham's perspective on creativity. Research in the Shaham lab uses the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans to study both programmed cell death during animal development and the roles of glial cells in nervous system development and function. Shai Shaham outside his laboratory with one of two C. elegans created by Coco 144 What attracted you to science and who have been your biggest influences? "The biggest influence for me going into science was probably my dad, who was an astrophysicist. Growing up, I heard about the science of celestial bodies and was always fascinated by it. I started out pretty sure I would become an astronomer or physicist." Your sister and brother, Orli and Gil Shaham, are professional musicians and I understand you play and perform as well. What was it like growing up in such a musical household? "My parents were both musical. My mom is a human cytogeneticist and my dad was an astrophysicist and they both played. My mom played piano and my dad violin. I remember, growing up, they would play
“I always knew that I wanted to help heal people, so being a physician has always been my primary focus. However, when I began conducting biomedical research in college I realized how important a research scientist’s mindset and approach to scientific problem solving would be to my skills as a physician.”
“When I was in high school, my science teacher, Robert Pursley, made learning science fun. He was this really eccentric person who used to do corny things like sing Christmas carols based on the periodic table. He was so enthusiastic about science that it was infectious. We used to do crazy experiments like making bubbles with gasoline and lighting them on fire. I guess I have always been curious and a bit mischievous. These characteristics came alive in chemistry class.”
David Yap joined the BioBus team December 2013. Born and raised in the Bay Area, California, he had a strong appreciation for the sciences instilled from his chemist father. After working part time as a lab assistant at the USDA while in high school, he attended McGill University in Montreal, studying Anthropology and Biology. Upon graduation, David spent a year teaching English in Japan and returned the United States, settling in Jersey City, NJ and freelancing as an editor of college biology textbooks. Later, he dove into the world of education reform and worked on staff at Teach For America. In 2011, David left to take part in the Occupy Wall Street protests and with a collective of artists he met at Zuccotti park, formed a worker-run screenprinting shop dedicated to creating art in public space and printing in support of social justice. David enjoys introducing students to science outside of textbooks and the classroom.
Can you think of a specific time when you found science or pursuing science challenging? “My second year and part of my third year in graduate school. This is where the work truly begins, when your project begins to sink or swim. Sometimes being a good scientist means knowing when to change directions and ask a different question. Well, I was at that point and I thought my project was sinking. I went through every emotion from anger to depression. I talked about my project to several people and found a solution to my problem. And just like that my dissertation was born.”
“During some stretches of time, when experiments are not working or when results are conflicting, research can be a serious struggle. When I first joined my current lab, I worked on a project for a year without being able to produce a thing—and that was pretty hard on me, both intellectually and emotionally. But my latest project has been incredibly productive and rewarding. The breakthrough moments are addictive and what every scientist lives for.”
“I have a small confession: I actually hate bench work. Pipetting is really not for me. The part I love about being a scientist is hanging around with my labmates and just letting our imaginations run wild with what could be going on in the organisms we study. That’s the most fun for me. People often don’t appreciate how valuable an active imagination is for doing science. But imagination is essential when you’re constantly trying to come up with hypotheses and explanations for the weird, unexpected things we see in the lab. Then the scientific method comes in to check those hypotheses and keep us honest.”