Unique Scientist: Helen Rottier

Time to meet Helen Rottier (She/her)! Helen is a PhD student in disability studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago Institute on Disability and Human Development in the USA!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am a PhD student in disability studies, and my research and community leadership is focused on academic access, ableism, the experiences of autistic and neurodivergent students and faculty in academia, the ways visibility and mentorship impact representation of #UniqueScientists, especially disabled students in STEM, and the impact of computer mediated communication, especially Twitter, on autistic community development. I am a graduate research assistant in the Institute on Disability and Human Development at UIC, a collaborating researcher in the Gernsbacher Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and coordinate student communities in the Chicago area. I also educate academic faculty and staff about academic ableism, disability studies, and how to support neurodivergent students and scholars.

What made you want to become a scientist?
I didn’t even know I could be a scientist until I started doing science! My idea of scientists was men in white coats mixing chemicals or dissecting animals. I started undergrad as a psychology major and thought I would become some kind of therapist, but I didn’t love the clinical aspects, and was fascinated by research. I had so many amazing mentors who helped me to see what was possible in research and who encouraged me to follow my passion for autism/education research, mixed with gender, disability studies, and ‘net’nography.

“I didn’t even know I could be a scientist until I started doing science! My idea of scientists was men in white coats mixing chemicals or dissecting animals.”

Helen Rottier

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I am a multiply-disabled, autistic woman. My work around academic access, ableism, and student experiences is rooted in my own experience as an autistic person navigating higher education.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I am fascinated by the US Postal Service, and have pen pals all over the world! I love sending letters, postcards, and stickers. The people who sort mail in my apartment building always comment on how much mail I receive and how the envelopes are usually decorated with calligraphy, stickers, and washi tape.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
My work imagines science, and knowledge production broadly, outside of academic settings. How can scientists turn the power of science over to the people? How can we make space for thinkers who academia excludes, including #UniqueScientists, people of color, queer people, and people with disabilities.

“I want my work to remove some of these struggles and barriers for future students.”

Helen Rottier

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
One positive source of inspiration is mentors and peers. I work with some truly amazing people at all stages of their careers, and I am grateful for their role in my journey. (S/O to Washieka, Amy, Cody, Nell, Zoie, Josh, and Ben!)

I’m also inspired by the struggles I endure as an autistic student. I want my work to remove some of these struggles and barriers for future students.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
This week was my first week of classes for the semester, I submitted IRB revisions, and I tried to balance work, school, and self-care!


#WomenInSTEM, #QueerInSTEM, #DisabledInSTEM, #AutisticsInAcademia

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