Today is Ada Lovelace Day, on which people share how women have influenced them to become who they are today. I'm participating in this by highlighting my undergraduate research advisor, Dr. Evanna Gleason.
Six years ago, I walked down the hall of the Life Sciences Building on LSU's campus, leaving a neuroscience professor's office. I was wearing a tan TV on the Radio tee depicting a man playing a flute that gave rise to a wiggly "TVOTR" that I'd freshly procured from the band's recent show in New Orleans. I was smiling because I was leaving my first meeting with Dr. Evanna Gleason, she'd accepted me into her lab, and she'd also said that she liked my shirt.
Dr. Gleason's lab was my introduction to neuroscience research and laboratory life. Although growing up with a science professor for a mother meant that I had basically been born into a laboratory environment, my first real taste of a lab apart from that of my mother's came from the Gleason Lab. In her lab, I learned how to get retinal neurons out of chick eyes and onto their new home on a Petri plate. I cut my teeth in neuroscience by working on an independent research project involving these cells. I even got to travel to a conference with the lab to present the portion of the research I'd worked on.
But the real benefits of working in the lab came not so much from the research and work component as it did from the relationships I formed with my labmates, the graduate students and postdocs in the biology department, and with Dr. Gleason herself. Gleason was always encouraging and supportive of my efforts and aspirations, providing another perspective on a career in research. As young undergraduate, it was sometimes a bit harder to take advice from a parent, so I benefited a lot from Gleason's additional perspective on the career of a female science professor.
In addition to sharing my love of the band Yo la Tengo and having an adorable little house at which she occasionally had parties for the department, Gleason provided an excellent example and role model of a woman who managed to balance being a academic researcher and professor with a rich family and personal life. Seeing her successfully juggle so many roles in her life inspired me and showed me that it was possible to dedicate myself to both research and a personal life.
While at times I struggle with the fact that I may be trying to do too much, it was Gleason who first showed me the possibility of balancing many different roles with a research career. I thought of her when I started graduate school while continuing to play music with my band, and I thank her for her influence and guidance as I gear up to apply for Ph.D programs in neuroscience. Without that experience in her lab back in 2005, I don't know if I would have continued in research, or discovered my love for neuroscience, or be making the decision to dedicate my life to its study by applying to Ph.D. programs this Fall. I'm honored to have the opportunity to write about her for Ada Lovelace Day 2011.