Today on #MeetaScientist, our co-founder Jane interviewed one of her closest friends and leader of 500WS, Jessica Metcalf. Jess has been the force behind Take Action Tuesdays, and is thinking about running for office! Get to know this awesome lady a little more:
When I met you in college, you were a super motivated student, a chemistry major, kicking science butt and being an all-around badass. That trend continued through grad school, postdocs, and now your professor position. When did you know you wanted to be a scientist and how did you keep yourself so focused and motivated?
Funny story - I took AP Chemistry in high school and did not do well. I just didn't believe I was smart enough to understand the material. When I started college, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Somehow I found some confidence and really buckled down. I took chemistry again because I was considering medical school. I aced the class! Once I figured out I was smart enough, I worked really hard to not let that insecurity bring me down again. I work at it every day! Also, science is REALLY COOL.
What other things are you interested in when you are not science-ing? What are your other passions?
I love spending time outdoors. I live very close to a lovely trail system in Fort Collins so I try to take my dog on a hike as often as I can. I love to cook. It's a very relaxing and creative activity for me. I am also very passionate about nachos.
You've been a part of 500 Women Scientists from the beginning, what aspects of this group resonated with you at the beginning and what stands out now?
The passion and focus really resonated with me both then and now. I love how women scientists are so good at organizing and logistics. Also, we tend to put our hearts into projects, and that's a great thing to share with your colleagues.
You have strong collaborations all over the world, what are the keys to building strong collaborations and what are the best parts of working so closely with other women scientists?
I think the keys to building strong collaborations are shared scientific goals and open and frequent communication. One of my favorite aspects of working with women scientists is the support and encouragement we give each other. I don't know what I would do without you ladies!
You have some deep activist roots. From what I recall, you were a radical cheerleader in college and involved in local Athens politics. What made you step away from activism and what made you come back in the last few months?Indeed, I was very active in Athens, GA - from politics to recycling to bike lanes, I was involved! I didn't intentionally step away from activism, but the demands of graduate school and postdoctoral research certainly distracted me from these efforts. Also, I think being in an academic environment in graduate school with many like-minded people, made me a bit idle. As we've seen lately, we tend to be more active when we feel our ideals are threatened. Now I know that standing up for my beliefs and trying to change what is wrong has to be part of the daily routine.
In the next few years, we are facing a lot of uncertainty in science and in life. Despite the uncertainty and battles ahead, what are you most excited about? What keeps you motivated?
I find the ever-changing landscape of science and technology very exciting and motivating (ok, and sometimes intimidating). As a new faculty member at CSU, I am very excited about my first graduate student(s), building my lab, meeting the faculty and forming new collaborations, and starting new projects on topics that I can't even imagine yet.
Jessica Metcalf is an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University where she brings together the fields of vertebrate evolution, microbial ecology, human health, and forensic science with innovative research tools to study the interactions between microbes and vertebrates during life and after death. She uses high-throughput sequencing of bacterial and microbial eukaryotic communities to study how microbial communities change in response to disturbance events in both short time scales (decomposition of mammalian taxa) and long time scales (human population shifts to a western diet). In particular, she is interested in temporal/time-series data sets that allow us to understand the dynamics and predictability of microbial community change.