Unique Scientist: Emma Tung Corcoran

Say hello to Emma Tung Corcoran (She/her/they/them)! Emma is a biologist from the USA that focuses on epigenetics.

What kind of scientist are you?
I am researching epigenetics, which is the study of heritable factors other than DNA sequence that regulate different cellular processes. Specifically, I study how epigenetics regulates genome stability and prevents the DNA in our cells from accumulating many harmful mutations that can cause disease and aging. I study this process in plants, but one of the really cool things about epigenetic mechanisms is that they are very similar between plants and animals, so results from my research can potentially be applicable to humans as well!

What made you want to become a scientist?
Growing up, I always really liked science and math, but I also enjoyed more creative fields such as writing, reading, and art as well. When I started doing molecular biology research in college, it really appealed to me because I got to use the more analytical parts of my personality in carrying out and analyzing experiments, but there were also very creative aspects in writing up and presenting my results. I love how it feels to get a nice result from an experiment, and then to try to make a beautiful figure to present it.

“Sometimes I feel like I have a second unpaid job educating others, to various degrees of reception, about my experience and the experiences of others like me.

Emma T. Corcoran

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I’m a queer woman of color, and I have an invisible disability. It feels like a lot to list all at once, and I definitely often feel exhausted navigating spaces that are built for someone who does not look like me. Sometimes I feel like I have a second unpaid job educating others, to various degrees of reception, about my experience and the experiences of others like me. I’m really proud to be a #UniqueScientist, but I am also really passionate about mentoring others so that one day there will be many people like me thriving in science.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I love growing different plants, and caring for my plant babies helps get me through the New England winter! It is also an interesting challenge to try to keep my plants happy and healthy, while also keeping them inaccessible from my two cats who love being evil and trying to eat them. I also really like drawing, reading all types of books, and taking one million pictures of my cats in various spots around my apartment.

“It’s not enough to accept a token few of us into the university and give us no support system once we get here.”

Emma T. Corcoran

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I wish that people from marginalized communities were supported, and that our contributions to science (past and present) were all recognized. It’s not enough to accept a token few of us into the university and give us no support system once we get here. I constantly feel tokenized, belittled, and/or erased, and I know that my experience is not unique. We deserve to be here, and we deserve to have our needs met.

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I am inspired by so many scientists and activists who came before me, and strove to make science and our society more inclusive and equitable. One of my science icons is Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who discovered the structure of DNA, but was not given credit for her work. I am also inspired by many of my peers and colleagues, who persist and thrive day after day in a system that was built to keep them out and silence them.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I am very proud that I have successfully propagated some succulents this week! I know it doesn’t seem that impressive that a plant biologist grew some plants, but actually I just grow one plant species in lab that is pretty simple to care for, so propagating succulents was a big step up for me. I also kept my succulent pups safe from the evil tummies of my cats!

#WomenInSTEM, #QueerInSTEM, #DisabledInSTEM

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