Dr. Jennifer Leigh Ingram and the entire Graduate Women in Science – Research Triangle family would like to congratulate Dawn Stancil for being the first recipient of the 2019 Dr. Jennifer Leigh Ingram Travel Award!

We would like to express our gratitude to all the reviewers who gave us their invaluable time to review all the applications we received! Our all-women review team was a great way to involve women in STEM in all parts of the application steps. Without the support of this community, our chapter and applicants would not have succeeded as well as they did.

We got a chance to ask Dawn some questions and learn more about her. Here’s what she had to say! 

Tell us a little bit about your personal and professional background, and your current research, including what you are presenting about.

I did not always know that I wanted to be a scientist but I have always been intrigued by science and nature. I started work at an early age looking for a job that would pique my interest. As time went on, I was not excited about the direction of my career so I enrolled at a local community college and earned an Associate’s degree. I am a first-generation college student and was off to a good start but I wanted to do more so I transferred to North Carolina Central University (NCCU). As a new undergraduate with junior status, I felt an urgency to dive into the scientific world and promptly got involved in a project identifying microbes that I cultured from human skin. I knew right away I was passionate about research and was hooked because, of course, MICROBES RULE!

I currently plan to present a skin microbiome project that I have been working diligently on.  As a team, we collected skin microbes from over 100 citizen scientists in the United States and another 30 samples from participants in Madagascar through a project started by the Genomics and Microbiology Research Laboratory at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS).  A single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in one gene determines the type of earwax a person has, either wet or dry, which definitely gives the project an extra “cool” factor.  Identifying the microbes in four different body sites of each participant allows us to compare the resident microbial communities between participants based on genotype, habitat differences, and daily habits.   

Personally, I am intrigued by the microbes living with us and hope to explore how our habits change the microbial environment and, in turn, shift the resident microflora – for better or worse!     

 

What are some of the talks or activities that you are looking forward to at the conference that you are presenting at?

I utilize conferences to get to know more people in the field and speak with them about their path leading them to where they are now. I look for potential people to collaborate with in the future and build my professional network.  Networking is all too important!  I enjoy seeing the methodology and software programs others are using and discuss why they choose to utilize them.  An important discussion regarding microbiome research, currently, is standardization of methodology and repeatability, so I often find myself asking other professionals their thoughts on this. I always enjoy hearing others speak and learning what I can from them. This will be my first time presenting a talk at a conference so I plan to incorporate all I’ve learned regarding science communication and make an interesting story about my research to share with other attendees. 

 

You have an impressive record of volunteer work and have been a GWIS Research Triangle Chapter member as well. How do you balance your time between volunteering and the rigors of a PhD program?

I have a very unique opportunity as a Ph.D. student at NCCU.  My mentor, Dr. Julie Horvath, is dually appointed as the Head of the Genomics and Microbiology Research Laboratory at NC Museum of Natural Sciences and is also a faculty member at NCCU.  In fact, working at both the University and the Museum is one of the main reasons I chose to attend NCCU for my Ph.D. I treat volunteering as a fun addition to the rigors of my Ph.D. program, not required by the school, but challenges I task myself with.  The research laboratory in the Museum is encased with glass walls so the visitors get to watch us as they pass by. Every now and then there will be a child or adult who looks extra intrigued by what I am doing and I make it a point to step out to speak to them, if at all possible. This gives me an opportunity to get used to speaking about my project -and science- to people from all walks of life, ages, and educational backgrounds.  I learned quickly to gauge my audience and adjust my approach on the fly, which can prove difficult.  Volunteering takes commitment of some evenings and weekends but these fun events at the Museum are a great way to get involved in community outreach and communicate science. I was inspired after participating in the GWIS TechnoQuest event so I designed a similar workshop that meets the requirements to earn the girl scout DNA Detectives Badge and have presented this at a local Girl Scout meeting. I adjusted the experiment slightly for a younger audience and presented to a Brownie troop from the Coastal Plains region and a Cub Scout pack from Durham.  I enjoy showing young people how “COOL” science can be – especially as they swirl a gooey blob of their own colored DNA on a stir stick!  While volunteering can take up a lot of time, it is also beneficial.  Discussing ideas with people based on their experiences may influence new future directions for important research projects.  I feel it is my duty, as a scientist, to utilize the opportunity I have been afforded to share my work, volunteer, and get the public excited about science.       

  

What is a piece of advice that you may have for women applying for such awards and travel grants to fund their expenses for traveling?

It is important when applying for grants or awards of any kind to present yourself and your research as completely as possible. Let your passion come through in your writing and accentuate positive attributes relevant to your own unique situation.  Also, get involved and stay involved – whenever possible – in networks both inside and outside of your field or institution.

 

Finally, what are some things you like to do to unwind and relax after a long day?

I look forward to getting home to my dog in the evenings. We walk, go to the dog park, play fetch, then come back home for treats and more play time. If I’ve had a rough day, she can always sense it and promptly snuggles me until she knows I feel better.  After dinner and a bit of family time, it’s usually back to work, reading papers, working on my dissertation, the next grant, next conference, clearing emails, etc. – as I’m betting is true for most of you as well!