Ask An Expert

An advice column featuring our STEM experts, who are here to answer all your questions about studying, working, and being a human being in the world of STEM.

June 23, 2021
Q: Dear Expert,

What role do you think science communicators will play in the coming years in development of policy and how can we become better science communicators for our communities?



Science communicators must be focused on building community in science in order to become better science communicators for our community. It sounds simple, but community building must be done intentionally, genuinely, and in a way that is culturally responsive to the community that we are seeking to serve. Policies are rules and guidelines that can impact people, and we need to get to the core of our communities to understand what other people want and need to thrive and be properly informed and educated. – Raven Baxter


Black and white photo of Raven Baxter, science communicator.

Raven Baxter is an internationally acclaimed American science communicator, molecular biologist, and queen of science rap known for effortlessly merging science with pop culture!




Q: Dear Expert,

How do you balance juggle your long-term goals with your short-term tasks and needs?



Planning is an important step in achieving short- and long-term goals. I highly recommend making a to-do list based on priorities. For example, if a student is applying to graduate school while finishing undergraduate students, I would suggest generating a checklist with all the different requirements for the application process such as letter of recommendations, writing personal statements, etc. Each week, the student can accomplish a small goal while keeping tracking of the current assignments and responsibilities to finish their undergraduate degree. In addition, I suggest tapping into their networks (peers, mentors, and advisors) to play important roles in the long-term goals such as asking others to review and edit personal statements. It is very important to create a weekly calendar to reach small but attainable goals. At end of the process all the small steps will add up to complete the major goal. – Mary Garcia Cazarin


Black and white photo of Mary Garcia Cazarin

Mary Garcia Cazarin is a Scientific Advisor in the Tobacco Regulatory Science Program at the at NIH, where she works to implement initiatives related to disease prevention & public health.




Q: Dear Expert,

How do you cultivate wellness in times of heightened stress?



A first step is to simply accept that stress and anxiety is normal and many external factors will exacerbate our degree of stress (i.e. pandemic). One thing that has helped me personally is to diversify my daily activities across many points of mental and physical wellness. This helps me build resilience in times of anxiety and pressure. You can think of it as a preventive measure of managing stress before it hits (because it will eventually!). Always take the time to care for yourself on a daily basis, whether it is taking a break from work regularly by exercising or practicing mindfulness. Developing a self-care routine is an essential part of wellness. And when crunch time hits, learn to savor the moment when you are done with a particular deadline or project (regardless of the outcome) and remember to always be kind to yourself! – Tarek Fadel


Black and white circular photo of Tarek Fadel

Tarek Fadel is Assistant Director at the MIT Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine. Dr. Fadel also serves in board and advisory roles in at the Yale Graduate School Alumni Association and the MIT Science Policy Review.



Q: Dear Expert,

what was a moment in your career where you felt stuck, and what did you do to help you in that situation?


That “stuck” feeling happened three years into my postdoc. I saw a couple career paths but none that interested me, and I didn’t want to try one and get stuck again. After some frustration, I kondo’d my career. This was before the Marie Kondo movement but that is what I did. I pulled apart my day-to-day and asked what brought me joy. When I say “pulled apart” – I looked at everything. From running gels to writing papers to middle-of-the-night lab visits when the freezer alarm went off. I learned that I found joy in conversations around high-level issues, for example why did researchers often use only male mouse models in studies. But, how to translate that, whatever that was, into a career? That’s when I did what I was best at – research. I read about all types of science careers, I did informational interviews with anyone that was willing, and I looked at a lot of job descriptions. In the end, I foundthat’ thing that brings me joy, science policy.” – Diana Pankevich


Photo of Dianna Penkevich

Diana Pankevich serves as the Director of Innovation Policy at Pfizer where she leads policy development for issues related to clinical trials, including enrollment, diversity, and data sharing.




“I felt stuck in my career when I was an assistant professor. I was having difficulty getting my work published, and I did not feel supported by my senior colleagues. The stress of being an assistant professor was having a negative impact on my marriage. I decided to put my personal life before my career and left my tenure-track position for a research position in the Federal Reserve System. Leaving academia gave me new and important information about how I interacted with my career. I was afraid of failing by not getting tenure. Once the stress of getting tenure was taken away, my research literally took off. After two years of being able to focus on my research, I returned to academia with tenure. I recommend that people be willing to make changes in their career and then learn from them. It’s your career, and it’s very important to make your career work for your entire life (personal and professional).” – Donna Ginther


Photo of Donna Ginther

Donna Ginther is the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Economics and Director of the Institute for Policy and Social Research at the University of Kansas, as well as a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.