Archive for January 31st, 2014

January 31, 2014

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow Kelly Ksiazek

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education_BIA (3)

If there is one segment of society that is often misunderstood, it is people who work in science fields. Public perception of scientists tends to lean towards lab coats, crazy hair and beakers full of chemicals, especially in the eyes of children.  In reality, most scientists are just regular people who want to make the world a better place through scientific discovery. The best way to dispel the myth that scientists are boring or crazy is to get to know them; the purpose of this segment is to talk with real scientists to ask them what they love about their jobs and why they think their work is fun and important.

For our third installment in this series, we sat down with BIA Fellow Kelly Ksiazek. The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed, first, to excellent research, and second, to educational outreach. The BIA program provides Fellows with funding for use towards field research in the US or abroad and a trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to share his or her research to public audiences. Kelly is in her second year as a BIA Fellow, researching green roofs in Chicago.

We interviewed Kelly about the importance of scientists being honest about their work, her former job as a science teacher and why science is important.

1. Describe your work:
People know me as a very organized researcher, teacher and graduate student. I am proud to be from Chicago, IL and love that I get to learn about plant ecology in the city that I call home. I am a PhD student at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden where I also earned my Master’s degree in Plant Biology and Conservation. I am currently determining which combinations of local plant species can live together on green roofs. Green roofs are rooftops were many plants can grow. In addition to providing habitat for plants, birds, and insects, these special habitats can help hold stormwater, filter pollutants from the air, and decrease the heating and cooling costs of a building.

As a scientist, I work with many people from the community like naturalists, roofing specialists, and building mangers. I get to travel to some of the most beautiful natural areas and urban green roofs to collect my data. I also spend time in a lab working with student interns and other volunteers cleaning seeds, identifying bees, and running chemical tests on soil samples. My goal is to have my findings to inform how green roofs are used in North America and increase city-wide greening and environmental awareness efforts. Supporting native plant and animal species in cities is essential for the current and future health of all living things on the planet.
2. Why did you become a scientist?
I don’t know why I never thought about being a scientist when I was growing up. Science was always my favorite subject in school but it wasn’t until I was a high school biology teacher that I really knew that I wanted to do more than help other people learn about science: I wanted to do it myself! When I had to learn more about ecology and plants so I could teach my students about these topics, I became fascinated with the field and knew that I wouldn’t be happy unless I was a scientist, making discoveries for myself.
3. What is your favorite part about being a scientist?
I love that I get to learn new things every day and that I get to search for answers to questions I have about the ecology in my city.
4. What is the most important quality in a scientist?
Honesty is the most important quality in a scientist. Sometimes when you are expecting a certain result from an experiment, it might be tempting to ignore a small piece of data or analyze numbers in a certain incorrect way so that your experimental results say what you want them to say. But this kind of dishonesty doesn’t help you or the rest of society really understand the true nature of things. As a scientist, you have to be able to admit when you’re wrong and always carry out your work with integrity and honesty.
5. What is the coolest thing you have ever done at work?
I was giving a presentation about my research in France and was invited to go on a tour of some green roofs in Paris. I got to take a special tour of the green roof on top of the Chaillot Palace, right across the river from the Eiffel Tower!
6. If you weren’t a scientist, what other job would you want to do?
If I wasn’t a scientist I would want to be a science teacher again so I could help others learn how cool science really is!
7. What are your hobbies outside of your research?
I really like traveling, camping, gardening, cooking, going to concerts and finding excuses to be outside as much as possible.
8. Why is science important?
Although the world is changing so quickly these days, science helps us understand it. Science helps us have clean air and water, enough food to eat and comfortable living spaces. Especially with the population of the world growing so fast, science is important to help us live together with the animals, plants, and other organisms on the planet.
9. Why is it important for kids to learn science?
Kids should learn about science so they can understand how their world works. If they learn how to ask good questions and identify the difference between fact and fiction when they’re young, hopefully they will continue to make discoveries and know how to make educated decisions later in life.

Kelly is an example of someone who loved teaching about science so much that she just had to do it herself! Her background as a former teachers helps inform her ability to communicate her work to others, which is the foundation of what the BIA program is all about. To learn more about the importance of science communication, check out this post.

To learn more about Kelly’s work, check out her Follow the Fellows page on the Botany in Action Website.

The above photo was taken by Amanda Joy.

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