www.whyville.net Mar 2, 2009 Weekly Issue

Times Writer

Interview with Dr. Rabiah

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This week, I had the very exciting opportunity of interviewing Dr. Rabiah. Dr. Rabiah is the Science Director at Science Chicago and several of her articles have been contributed to the Whyville Times. She also keeps up her own blog at www.sciencechicagoblog.com . Today, she answered a few questions for me about her life as a scientist.

Here it goes . . . Question numero uno

Cobd: How did you get to where you are now?

DrRabiah: Good question . . . I've always been interested in science, from an early age when my sister and I used to take things apart and watch TV shows about the human body. So it felt pretty natural to study biology and chemistry (and French!) when I went to college, and then continue on that path into graduate school. I went to graduate school because I loved working in the lab - discovering new things every day and designing experiments to test interesting questions is one of the most amazing things I've ever had the opportunity to do. I worked on understanding how messenger RNA is cut and put back together in the nucleus before it goes to the cytoplasm to be translated into protein. This process is called pre-mRNA splicing, and errors in splicing are thought to cause up to 60% of inherited cancers. It was a great project and I got to work with baker's yeast, because their splicing systems are very similar to humans' - kind of neat, when you think that yeast live as a single cell and are very simple compared to humans!

When I completed my PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology in October 2007, and was looking for my next job. I knew that I what was even more exciting and important to me was helping young people discover for themselves how incredible science really is. As much as I like laboratory work, I knew that my passion was really in getting kids excited about and interested in science. So in early 2008, I stumbled across an online posting for this position with Science Chicago, and it looked like a perfect fit! And I was lucky enough to have gotten the job and I've been here since April 2008.

Cobd: What is your day-to-day routine?

DrRabiah: My days are kind of all over the place . . . on a given day, I might be talking to scientists on the phone about how they can participate in outreach activities with young people, working with Science Chicago partner organizations to help develop new programs, writing a blog or posting on other science blogs, talking to a classroom of students or leading a Jr. Science Cafe. There are a lot of responsibilities, and many of the things I do required that I learn skills on the job, so it's been great to work on a team of people with communication, marketing and event experience to round out all the work that we do.

Cobd: What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

DrRabiah: By far, hands-down, unequivocally, the most rewarding part of my job is having the opportunity to show young people that scientists are cool, fun, interesting people and that science and engineering can be understood and appreciated by everyone. The paradigm or standard image that many people have of a scientist is Albert Einstein, or the crazy professor, which is unfortunate because there is so much more! Scientists are train engineers, climatologists, deep-sea explorers, pharmacists, storm chasers . . . the list is endless! I love every opportunity that I have to get that message across, and to talk about science in an accessible way, whether it's through the blog, in a presentation or through a hands-on program.

Cobd: Some people may think that is out-of-the-ordinary to be a woman in science. What do you say to this and what do you think is the current role of women in science?

DrRabiah: I don't think it's out of the ordinary, as we have certainly seen increased numbers of women entering the fields of science and engineering over the past couple of decades. According to National Science Foundation research, women make up over 25% of college graduates with careers in science and engineering, nearly double the amount in 1980. I think that's due to a range of factors, including increased prominence of women in scientific careers, education and awareness initiatives that have challenged the long-held myth that science and math are only for boys, and a more woman-friendly culture in the sciences. Having more female scientist role models can make pursuing a scientific career more accessible and appealing, and brings different perspectives to the table.

I certainly can't speak for my colleagues, but I think the current role of women in science is to continue being examples of intelligent, determined, creative, accessible people who can excel in science. Period. To show that we don't have to fit the stereotype of a nerdy lab rat, but that it's 100% ok if we do. To demonstrate that managing career and family can be difficult no matter what the career path, but it can be done successfully. And to prove, especially to little girls, that even though women like Rosalind Franklin (who was never properly credited on her work in discovering DNA) may not be well known, women have been and continue to be at the cutting edge of science and engineering.

Cobd: One of the most inspirational scientists for me has always been Carl Sagan. Are there any people in science who really inspire you (and why)?

DrRabiah: My most inspirational scientists actually change depending on what my favorite science topic is; this usually changes every couple of weeks. Right now I'm really into airplanes and so I'm just in awe of Daniel Bernouilli, an 18th century Swiss physicist who determined the relationship between a fluid's velocity and it's pressure. The principle is why airplanes can take off, among other things, and I am amazed at how such fundamental principles govern everything in the world around us.

Cobd: What do you get up to in your free time?

DrRabiah: I don't sleep much, so even though I work long days and weekends, I do have quite a bit of free time. I'm a TV junkie, especially "Dancing With the Stars" (seriously, if they ever have Dancing with the Scientists, I'm standing in line to sign up!), "Top Chef", "Deadliest Catch", and anything on NatGeo or Discovery Channel. I also do triathlons, so I spend a lot of time swimming, biking and running - in fact, this year I'm training for my first half-ironman race . . . 70.3 miles of fun! And I love to travel, whether it's short weekend trips to see my family or friends, or longer vacations to explore new places. My next plan is Malaysia, but I'm still saving up for that one!

Cobd: If you were stuck on a desert island, what three things would you bring and why?

DrRabiah: I never have a good answer to this question :-( "The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger" - I can reread that book over and over. Cheez-Its, because they're delicious. And my twin sister, cuz she rocks and I can do pretty much anything with her on my side.

Cobd: Anything else you'd like to say to the science-eager citizens of Whyville?

DrRabiah: I've had so much fun on Whyville, chatting in the BBS and elsewhere in the site! There are so many Whyvillians who are interested in science and asking great questions, and I hope that everyone has an opportunity to really explore science for themselves. Whether it's a summer camp, or reading a science blog, becoming a citizen scientist or even experimenting in the kitchen . . . science is awesome and it's everywhere! I'm lucky to be able to do science and share my love for it with others, and if any Whyvillians are considering pursuing a career in science, I can say there's nothing else in the world like it! (also, anyone can ymail me if they have questions or want to chat about science topics, college or career stuff, too).

I'd like to thank Dr. Rabiah so much for her interesting and insightful interview. Science is a very important issue nowadays and everyone should be involved. Don't forget to check out the Virtual Science Chicago feature in Whyville! You can also read Dr. Rabiah's blog at http://www.sciencechicagoblog.com

This is Cobd . . .


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