We’re taking this interview across the pond to a Science Cheerleader in London! Marisa is pursuing her PhD in Clinical Neuroscience and Molecular Genetics at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. Keep reading to learn about her love for STEM and cheer!
Please note, this interview has not been edited to update Marisa’s responses to American English.
What inspired you to get involved with STEM?
I have always been really good with Maths and Sciences. But I was really inspired by watching Sir Robert Winston and Sir David Attenborough’s programs on TV. And I thought, I want to do what they do! I want to present Science on TV, and wouldn’t it be nice to have more female on TV who are Scientist? Then I got really into CSI, so wanted to become a Forensic Scientist. I was really inspired by Sir Alec Jefferys and his work on DNA fingerprint. All these prompt me to pursue a career in science. I didn’t really have a female scientist that I was able to look up to, however, because of how male dominant it was, I felt it was my duty to push those boundaries. After experiencing some discrimination as a female in science, I almost gave up on science, but then I realized that I should not be put off by that, and I realized that maybe I can help the next generation of female scientist to stop the stereotyping. That we can be both intelligent and sporty and feminine.
Why did you try out to be a cheerleader?
I have always loved Bring it On. In the UK, cheerleading was not a big thing when I started my cheer journey. However, it has grown so much not. But I have always loved the way cheerleading is in the US. I loved the challenging nature of cheerleading. Being a dancer, it just made sense to me to give it a try. The team spirit really created a supporting space for like-minded females at my University.
What do you do now?
I am now a science policy consultant, what I do is I look at science research and see how we can improve on them, what are the impacts, can we include the findings to help shape our government policy. Also, look at what direction should future research funding takes and invest in. It is quite hard job to explain without really doing it job. I am always discovering new things and ways to work in my job. Before this, I was a lab-based scientist, so I spent most of my time in a lab coat and working in the lab. As I was working with humans, I had to train up to be a phlebotomist, what that means is that I am qualified to take blood from people! I then take the blood samples and run different laboratory experiments to help me understand the disease that I am interested in my research. The end goal in science is always to answer the questions at hand. In my case, why some people get certain diseases and why some do not.
What does it mean to you to work in STEM?
For me it is always about making an impact to the society. With my PhD work, I was helping a group of patients that are often neglected to understand what is happening in their body and why. Give them a voice and a chance to understand their condition better. Showing some care and let them know that there are scientists out there that cares about the disease/condition they have. With my current job, it is making an impact by directly effecting policy. I want to make science more accessible to the general public. Making sure science are communicated appropriately in the media. Also, to ensure money are not being spent wrongly, instead these govern funding should be spent on research that really will have an impact in people’s life.
Can you tell us about a time you faced adversity in your career and how you overcame it?
Oh I have faced so many situations like this. I have so many stories that I love to share with future female science cheerleaders. But none of these situations have made me give up on what I love. In fact, the way I address it is, I show them that I am both! I always tell people I am a cheerleader first, they will go, well obviously, then I tell them I am also a scientist, and I will start a conversation and make them realise that I am the real deal and it is possible to be a cheerleader and also a scientist! This is why I do a lot of advocate work to help break down these negative stereotypes. And I would love to include more of this work in cheerleading competitions one day. I also feel sometimes the stereotype does not come from male colleagues, we also get it from female colleagues, therefore, I feel it is essential to address them.
How has being a cheerleader benefitted your career?
I think being a scientist, we need to accept that things don’t always go your way, which is something we have to learn as cheerleaders too. A stunt will not hit 100% of the time, but it is ok. You can be at your best but does not necessarily mean you will be number 1 at the competition. Cheerleading is also great at getting you prepped to be a team player as well as a leader, which is a skill sets that many scientists lack. This in my opinion is why science cheerleaders have an advantage over some of the other scientists. Cheerleading also teaches you to be positive, optimistic, and able to encourage others. It is particularly essential when you work with human patients to have compassion and understanding. Our radiance and positivity helps the patients that I am doing a test on feel more at ease.