“It’s pretty hokey and sentimental, my favorite thing about being a scientist is getting to act in the service of humanity. Like, it’s pretty amazing knowing that my work contributes in some way to solving humans’ problems.
I actually did always want to be a scientist. I always pretended to be a scientist working in a lab, curing diseases or building technologies that would save the world from some huge problem.
I was a huge Star Trek nerd growing up, and despite the hilariously bad TV technobabble, I always liked how Gene Roddenberry and co. recognized science as being a huge part of human advancement. That really resonated with me.”
Where did you grow up? How are things different/the same in NYC?
“I grew up in Indianapolis. It’s a lot smaller than New York…and a whole lot sleepier. One of its nicknames is Naptown. Definitely fits. It’s changed a lot since I was growing up, though. There’s always been a lot of great food, art, and music, but now it’s much more a part of the city’s outward face. There are parts of the city that feel a lot like Manhattan or Brooklyn, except everything closes earlier.”
Can you think of a specific time when you found science or pursuing science challenging?
“Haha, every day? There aren’t a lot of other black faces in academic science, so it can feel pretty lonely sometimes, but I have a great group of scientist friends who are mad supportive and just amazing people.”
If you could give one piece of advice to young scientists or students, what would it be?
“Don’t let impostor syndrome get you down. You made it and you’re good enough. Whenever it hits, ask yourself, ‘who told you you’re not good enough? Who told you you don’t belong here?’ I mean, if you get caught up in comparing yourself to this person or that, how are you ever gonna find yourself, am I right?”
Have you ever made something explode or otherwise wildly go wrong in lab?
“Explode, no. But that would be pretty metal. One time, though, I did accidentally freeze something that shouldn’t have been frozen. It didn’t lead to any major consequences, so it’s a pretty boring story.”
If the building was burning, what single item would you grab as you ran out the door and why?
“Eh… nothing in lab is that crucial. But at home, I’d grab my cat (my dog would just follow me).”
Tell us about yourself outside of science. How do you spend your time outside of lab?
“I’m a runner. And I like to bake. Otherwise, you’ll probably find me on my sofa, watching Netflix while my pets fight for lap space.”
If you hadn’t pursued science, what would you have done instead?
“I probably would have been an English teacher.”
What is the funniest/strangest thing you’ve seen in NYC?
“Honestly, I still get creeped out by those Times Square Elmos.”
When you are done training, do you plan to stay in NYC?
“I think so. I’ve already done one cross-country move, and I’m kind of loathe to do another. Plus, New York has gotten its claws in me. It’s ridiculous, but now I find it hard imagining living anywhere else”
If you were a lab animal/model organism, which would you be and why?
“Zebrafish. I feel like it’d be cool to be optically transparent.”
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.
First up, Devon Collins, a graduate student at The Rockefeller University