Amma Asare can remember when her interest in biology was first piqued: as a high school student, she took part in a summer science program where participants were taken to a cadaver lab to watch medical students perform dissections.
“[I] got to see the inside of the human body for the first time,” she said. “I thought [it] was super interesting, and there’s so much going on that we don’t know about. I started to get excited about science and medicine at that time.”
Amma went on to study at the University of Pennsylvania, where she landed a work study job in a biology lab. The PI [principal investigator] of her lab, whom she describes as “really young and enthusiastic,” encouraged her to take some biology courses.
“I started taking bio and I really loved it,” reflects Asare. “I thought it was a really fun way to think about how we interact with the world.” She declared a major in biology, and after she finished her undergraduate studies “decided to go back to graduate school and do both a medical degree and a PhD because [she] loved both science and medicine.”
Asare is now pursuing her MD/PhD at the Rockefeller University. Her doctoral research is focused on skin cells, which she explains “are a really great model” for how human organs “grow from a single cell all the way up to a person that’s fully functional.” Studying skin cells is a good way “to understand how organs form and how this formation can go wrong and lead to different diseases like cancer or other skin disorders.”
Being a woman has “definitely” made an impact on Asare’s experience in the scientist. She recalls a college sociology course she took, in which her professor asked who amongst the students had thought about how their decision to have children or not would affect their future career. “A bunch of people raised their hands, and when you looked around, it was only the women,” says Asare. For Asare, “being a woman is an extremely important part of [who I am] but I see it as a positive factor, a motivating factor.”
When asked what advice she would give to girls interested in STEM, she emphasizes the importance of trying new things. “Sometimes it feels like such a barrier to try something that maybe your friends aren’t doing or that seems very different.”
But, she stresses, “especially when you’re younger, nothing can be lost by just trying something. If you try something and you don’t like it, try something new. Just go to something for a day that you would never otherwise try—in the sciences and outside of the sciences. You don’t know what you’ll like, you don’t even know what you’ll be good at”
Parents can play a role in supporting their daughter’s interest in STEM by helping them explore STEM options outside “the traditional professions like doctor, lawyer, nurse.” Asare cites “the huge range of things people can do, from physician’s assistant to nuclear medicine technician to engineer,” which many kids “don’t know about.”
Lastly, she recommends that parents encourage their children to persevere with their scientific interests even if it doesn’t come easy at first. “It’s important to get encouragement to know that you don’t have to be perfect at everything to be good at it,” she says.
-- Caroline Neel