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Holloway to students: Science can be more than you’d expect

October 13, 2014

Growing up, Tracey Holloway loved visiting the Adler Planetarium in her hometown, Chicago. So it was extra exciting when she got the opportunity this summer to speak at their Career X-Ploration Day. Holloway, a professor of environmental studies in the Nelson Institute, was given five minutes to speak to high school students from the area interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Her remarks explored the rewards of a career in science and what it means to be a scientist working in a university setting. Holloway also hosted an exhibit booth where students could stop and talk with her about different careers in science. Here are some of Holloway’s biggest pieces of advice:

Science can be more than you’d expect: “I’m always learning new things. Science is very much about asking and answering questions. And in particular, interdisciplinary research, like the Nelson Institute does, is exciting and offers exciting opportunities for students. It connects with a lot of different fields and you don’t have to pick just one; you can pick a problem like air quality that cuts across fields within science and connects with broader social issues.” 

“I think part of empowering
students to think about STEM
fields is just to say, don’t sell
yourself short by deciding at
age 18 that you can’t be this
or can’t be that."

Many fields of science connect across disciplines: “There are some issues that are only chemistry, or math, or biology... but most real-world problems link across disciplines. There are many exciting fields of research and study that benefit from thinkers and students who can pull together different ways of knowing.”

Being a scientist or a professor in a scientific field means doing a lot of jobs in one: “Part of research is writing papers and books, talking with students, teaching classes, applying for grant money… all of those things are a part of what it takes. You’re not just sitting in a lab in a lab coat all day.” 

Doctoral students are funded in science and engineering: “Students should expect that a Ph.D. in science or engineering would be paid for, with both tuition and a salary provided.  It’s totally different money-wise than the undergraduate experience. I think many students are so overwhelmed by student debt, loans and the cost of education that they don’t even think about the next step. If you aren’t thinking about it, you may not know that, at least for a Ph.D. in science and engineering, that next step can be free.”

Science can be fun! “It is fun and rewarding – I get to work with a team, travel, ask and answer interesting questions. I get to do a lot of things that I’ve always enjoyed; I just do them with the hat of a scientist.”

Look beyond your comforts: “A lot of students might never have thought about a STEM career. At least for me, nobody in my family was a scientist or an engineer, and I really never considered going into science until I got to college and started talking to professors and meeting new people with careers I hadn't known existed. The path to becoming a scientist can be opaque to students if they don’t know somebody who’s already in those fields. I talked to a lot of people, asked for a lot of advice, and found some excellent mentors in college and since.” 

Explore your options: “I think part of empowering students to think about STEM fields is just to say, don’t sell yourself short by deciding at age 18 that you can’t be this or can’t be that. Any student at UW-Madison can really major in anything they want!” 

Melanie Ginsburg is a senior majoring in journalism.