Unique Scientist: Megan Sieg

Time to meet Megan Sieg (She/her)! Megan is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Beckman Institute within the University of Illinois where she studies the effects of exposure to common environmental chemicals on child development!

What kind of scientist are you?
I’m a 4th year PhD student in neuroscience working on an epidemiology project called the Illinois Kids Development Study as part of the NIH Environmental Influences on Children’s Health Program. We study whether prenatal exposure to common environmental chemicals, like BPA and phthalates, influences child development, with a focus on cognitive development. I am also part of the Interdisciplinary Environmental Toxicology Program and have training in neurotoxicology. My favorite areas of science to talk about are toxicology, neuroscience, and epidemiology, which is fortunate since my work involves all 3 areas!

What made you want to become a scientist?
I’ve always had an interest in science and a curiosity about the world, but I didn’t have any role models in science while I was growing up, so I didn’t realize it was an option until my second year of college. I was fortunate to have excellent mentors in college who showed me that it was an option for me and encouraged me to explore my interests!

“In college, my peers would give me looks in the halls that said, “You don’t belong in science,” and it made me less confident and was discouraging.”

Megan Sieg

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I love glitter, makeup, and wearing dresses, but those things aren’t what scientists “should” like… In college, my peers would give me looks in the halls that said, “You don’t belong in science,” and it made me less confident and was discouraging. Fortunately, the program I’m in and my sub-field of neurotoxicology are both very supportive of women and are pretty well gender-balanced, even somewhat women-dominated.

Additionally, I grew up lower-middle class in a very rural community where there is actually a “drive your tractor to school day,” so I just didn’t know or have role models in my life to help me learn more about a career in science. Back home, and even in the surrounding rural communities outside of my current college town, the only futures most people see for themselves are either taking over the family farm, working at one of the agriculture-related factories, or joining the military, because that’s all they’ve ever known. Those of us who do “escape” (including me) don’t often return permanently, so those communities never get the role models or insight some of those students so desperately need, and they just never know the opportunities and options that are available.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I love painting my nails, ballet, ice skating, and taking pole dancing classes at the local pole/aerial arts studio. I also volunteer with my sorority for women in STEM, Alpha Omega Epsilon, as a chapter advisor and as a member of a few committees.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I would make it more accessible for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, academic abilities or performance, income, education, where they live…any possible barriers. Because science IS for everyone.

“[…] I just didn’t know or have role models in my life to help me learn more about a career in science.”

Megan Sieg

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
•Dr. Bethia King of Northern Illinois University, my first research mentor.
•Dr. Lesley Rigg of University of Calgary, previously of Northern Illinois University where she was my sorority chapter’s faculty advisor while I was chapter president and is one badass karate-doing, women’s self defense-teaching, feminist professor/academic administrator mom and wife. I want to be her when I grow up.
•The Sci Babe, Yvette D’Entremont, the first woman science communicator I ever came across. Her fight against Food Babe and science misinformation with her signature combination of facts, science, and snark have a major influence on my own science communication.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
Napped all Sunday afternoon after a long, hard week in the lab. It was much-needed rest!


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