Author: Tarah Gilles
Originally published Apr. 24, 2020.
After conducting scientific research from cancer biology to insect biomechanics as an undergraduate physics student, Teressa M Alexander is currently pursuing a PhD in plant physiology in The University of the West Indies, Trinidad. Her dedication to science journalism, education and policy drives her objectives which includes (1) increasing visibility and engagement in scientific research in the Caribbean, (2) providing young prospective Caribbean scientists with critical information on pathways to college and STEM career preparation, and (3) to accurately inform environmental policies.
1. What is your current job title? And what does this profession entail?
Currently, I’m pursuing a PhD in Plant Physiology at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad. I’m the founder of STEM Caribbean Media (@stem.caribbean.media) and the Co-founder of STEMNoire (@stemnoire).
2. Why did you choose plant physiology as your profession?
As an undergraduate physics major, I fell in love with research in biomechanics. I consider my work to be plant biomechanics because I apply physical principles to plant xylem structure and function to refine our understanding of plant behaviour in drought conditions. I’m also a nature lover.
3. What is the best part of your job?
The fieldwork is the best part for me. I love going out into the field to take measurements of the tree model I use in my research. I do not like being indoors to do work unless it’s necessary.
4. What are the challenges of being in STEM?
There are several angles you can look at challenges. For me, it’s achieving funding for your research and having the right mentors or supervisors to assist you with your projects.
5. Do you have any hobbies or other interests that prompted you to take your specific career path?
I love hiking and dragon boat. Both activities happen in the natural environment, but I don’t think it prompted me to study plants.
6. How has your present or past STEM job changed while you’ve held it?
My work hasn’t changed as much. What changes are the questions you ask after completing an experiment. Sometimes the results of an investigation don’t turn out the way you expected, so the questions you ask can change.
7. What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career similar to yours? And in general, the STEM field?
In general, take internship opportunities to ensure this is the type of work you’d like to do as a career. Doing scientific research can be difficult and stressful — especially if your experiments do not go as planned — so have non-STEM related activities you enjoy to maintain your sanity.
8. What is one major contribution you have made to the STEM community?
Being a mentor to young women and young women within minority groups in STEM has been a major achievement for me.
9. How do you think it has impacted the STEM community?
As a minority woman in STEM, mentoring has inspired other young minority women to engage in STEM and prepare for STEM careers.
10. Have you any advice as to how others can contribute to the STEM community?
Be open to sharing your experiences through academia as a STEM student or professional. Communicating your work with the public also helps non-STEM folks understand the importance of your work.
11. What changes do you expect to see in the STEM fields in the future? How will things change for the better?
The STEM world is quite male-dominated, especially in the workplace. Still, I believe with the current global movement of women affecting change to close the gender gap, it will become a level playing field soon.