Unique Scientist: Katie Walsh

Time to meet Katie Walsh (She/her)! Katie is an undergraduate student and is interested in chemistry and education at Lesley University in the USA!

What kind of scientist are you?
I’m an undergrad biology major, but I self-identify as a chemist and a chem education researcher. That sounds wild, but hear me out: my university doesn’t have a chem major, so while a lot of my research and time in my department is related to chemistry, I’m still technically in school for a biology degree. Researching chem education means I focus a lot of my energy at the moment on how people learn best and how to teach difficult concepts and skills.

What made you want to become a scientist?
For a long time, I thought I couldn’t be a scientist because I actually grew up as a linguistics/English geek. It’s super easy to separate people into “the humanities” and “STEM,” but that really isn’t the case! I truthfully didn’t know being a scientist was an option for me until I was asked why that wasn’t something I was considering for college. Having thoughtful science teachers who encouraged me to look into the option, even if it wasn’t what I did forever, of taking more science classes was key.

“I’d love to see people who aren’t disabled take on some of the load of making science accessible.”

Katie Walsh

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
Hmm, let me count the ways. Kidding! Sort of. I’m exceedingly lucky to be a white, middle-class scientist, but I’m also a disabled queer woman who goes to a small liberal arts school, so it isn’t what I would call “easy.” There’s been a lot of talk about how science is a “boy’s club” (and it is), so I won’t go too much into that, and being LGBT+ in science has been covered excellently and recently with #LGBTinSTEMday, but re: being disabled in science? That’s tough. There need to be discussions about accessibility in science and the way that we bring disabled voices to the table. I think a lot of people are scared of pushback if they start talking about disability– I know I run the risk of being identified as “the one who always brings up disability” in my tiny university and even tinier department, and that’s hard. That can put you at a disadvantage, being the one who always kicks up a fuss. I’d love to see people who aren’t disabled take on some of the load of making science accessible.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
For one, I’m a huge linguistics geek still! That manifests in everything from reading books about syntax (yes, I know) to writing creative pieces in my downtime. I’m also a giant theatre fan, which works in my favor because I act and sing quite a bit too.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I’d love to see more diverse voices included in science. For as many of us non-white, non-straight, non-cis, non-able-bodied, non-dudes there are here, science is still structured around supporting them first. In an ideal world, we’d start to talk about the ways science is built around a very specific brand of scientists and how to shift that to be more equitable. My advisor told me recently that she believes the brunt of the labor to make a class accessible should have already happened and been taken on by the professor. I’d love to live with a science where that’s the case.

“I truthfully didn’t know being a scientist was an option for me until I was asked why that wasn’t something I was considering for college.”

Katie Walsh

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
Since I already mentioned my thoughtful science teachers (shout out again, though!), I’d say the biggest influences on me have been the scientists around me in these past few years who actively are trying to make a difference. My two favorite professors, who are brilliant representations of women in STEM who want to leverage the power they have to encourage people to do better and be thoughtful; the incredible grad students I’ve connected with on Twitter who are teaching me every day how to hold your institution to account and make it through a tough handful of years; and just the general populace of science Twitter, who are constantly supporting each other and having the chats about equity that should be happening across the entire discipline.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
This is a total cheat, but by Sunday, I will have finished my eight-week term of summer classes and be officially another semester closer to graduating. As much as I love doing work and learning, this was a hugely difficult undertaking that a lot of people (myself included!) were worried about. I am incredibly proud of myself for getting as far as I have!


#WomenInSTEM, #QueerInSTEM, #DisabledInSTEM

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