Soapbox Science: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
Julia Potocnjak: Since I was a little girl, I have been fascinated by the world around me. So much so, that my parents enrolled me in school early. I kept walking up to the school from my house, and my parents got tired of phone calls from the school to come pick me up! So they enrolled me a year early. I watched The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, and saw Jane Goodall on television as well. Having those early exposures to figures in science and research only furthered my interest in my world. I wanted more.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
JP: What attracted me to Soapbox Science was multi-faceted: Firstly, as a woman in a STEM field, I desire to participate in as much outreach and science communication as I can. Knowledge is power! Making an impact on my community by engaging in public forums presenting science is awesome. It’s such a powerful thing to be a part of, and for the next generation to see that there are mums and sisters and daughters doing amazing science everyday is incredibly gratifying.
Secondly, what an awesome concept! I have never been a prolific speaker, but interacting with people at this event, answering questions and seeing how excited people were with what I was presenting…what an awesome feeling!
Lastly, as a Professional Research Assistant in Behavioral Genetics, I was thrilled at the idea of presenting how Genetics works, especially in a time where the field has gone totally mainstream and now we can have all kinds of information about ourselves by spitting in a tube!
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
JP: Scientific culture needs to be accessible for everyone. In my own experiences, from job interviews to departmental meetings and even taking classes as an undergrad and through grad school-diversity has been lacking for a very long time. Not all researchers are men, not all post docs, grad students or academia are men. However, the representation of women in these critical positions is so disproportionate! The sciences ARE for everyone, and as women across all stages of our careers, we must serve as public faces and examples to inspire the next generation of girls and young women.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a woman studying for a PhD and considering pursuing a career in academia?
JP: Don’t give up. Investing in yourself at any level in any field, will only benefit you. And the benefits will absolutely outweigh the challenges, the uncertainty and doubt. Stay the course. I’ve faced many challenges in my academic career, and those challenges have only solidified my place in STEM. Sometimes it can feel daunting, but there is a place for you.