Lauren Hewitt | PhD Candidate & Stitching Scientist
Hi everyone. The last few weeks (/months) have been chaotic and I'm assuming a lot of you are a little fed up with being constantly bombarded with COVID-19 updates. So the good news is I'm here to offer you a little 5 minute break from all that as I'm about to share with you another wonderful STEM story! Today's blog post shares the STEM journey of Lauren Hewitt (She/Her) aka @stiching_hew. Lauren is a PhD Candidate studying neuroscience in Austin, Texas, USA. In addition to being a badass scientist, Lauren has also combined her passion for science with art and creates amazing #SciArt embroidery pieces!
Personally, I think it's extremely valuable to others to share your background and what inspires you, so I asked Lauren to share some of this with me. Here's what she had to say:
I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada (it was pretty normal!) My dad is a construction supply salesman, who has an incredible way with people, and my mom works at Starbucks (which definitely has its perks)! My parents taught me the value of hard work and diligence for which I am forever thankful. I have an innate, intense curiosity about the world and how it works and that is what attracted me to research. I am currently a 4th year PhD student in Austin, Texas where I am studying how brain cells communicate with each other using electrical signals.
Most of my work is focused on understanding how cells in the hippocampus, a brain area essential for learning and memory, communicate with each other in an animal model of Fragile-X Syndrome. I’ve studied animal behaviour, genetic and molecular pathways, and now electrophysiology. I have to say they are all pretty essential but studying the underling electrical signals of brain cells is probably one of the coolest things I’ve done so far, I am pretty enamoured with the work I currently do!
Tell me a bit about your STEM journey
I have been fascinated with how the world works from a young age, and I knew I wanted to study the brain pretty early on. I was just so enamoured with figuring out why people behave the way they do and studying the brain was my foundation for figuring that out. I am a first-generation college student and I had no idea you could be a career scientist, so I thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist. When I started university in 2010, I joined a behavioural neuroscience lab and found my passion in research!
I’ve been doing lab research for almost 10 years now and I still really enjoy it! There’s something incredibly exciting about trying to describe some of the world’s greatest unknowns.
What motivated you to start Stitching Hew and do you have anything exciting planned for the future?
The biggest motivation behind Stitching Hew is creating art that is approachable to anyone that wants to learn more about science! My biggest goal is to foster childlike curiosity about how the world works and create resources that help people explore that curiosity through hand embroidery art. I hope to someday exhibit my art, especially the 100 Neuron Project, where I am embroidering 100 different types of brain cells from different organisms and brain areas. I think it’s such a fantastic display of the beautiful diversity of biology.
What is the greatest challenge you've had to overcome?
I feel like I’m still overcoming this one! But I’ve made big strides in it. One of the greatest challenges I’ve had to contend with is feeling like I don’t belong in academia or that I am not cut out for an academic career. The academic system is extremely broken in so many ways, and I’ve finally accepted conforming to the impossible standards is not my obligation. Instead it’s time to stand up and start voicing concerns to help lay the foundation for change. But I definitely still struggle with this!
If you could go back and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would have to tell myself that your grades do not define you. Your hard work and dedication will. I struggled so much as a first-generation student with myself worth being wrapped up in my academic performance and now that I am on the other side, I would encourage myself (and others) to celebrate their passions instead of trying to dampen them for academic achievement.
What BIG change would you love to see in the STEM field over the next couple of years?
I would love to see an initiative to increase retention of women and minoritized populations in STEM. It’s no secret that ‘the pipeline’ is broken, and I do think it is really fantastic how much inspirational content has come out of wanting to increase interest in STEM careers (it’s definitely important)! But I would love to see more support that helps keep STEM diverse. This can come in forms: increasing the pay of graduate students, better policies around having children (more maternity/paternity leave), or getting rid of the Graduate Record Examination. We are having conversations that make me hopeful about these changes. I’d love to see them implemented in my lifetime.
Thats a wrap! I hope Lauren's story was a nice little distraction for you and that it helped to inspire you to work hard and follow your passions. If you loved the look of Lauren's art please make sure to visit her Etsy shop (StitchingHew). She sells amazing science embroidery kits that include everything you need to stitch your very own #SciArt. Plus she does regular stitch alongs on IG so you can either follow along with her or simply sit and watch as the magic happens.