This is the third article in a series of profiles of women pursuing scientific careers at the University of Utah.
How does a scientist become a scientist?
For individuals striving to correct the deficiency of female scientists in STEM fields, this is the ultimate question. This ‘How To’ guide is based on the educational training of Heydon Kaddas, an undergraduate student at the University of Utah, majoring in biology. The following are Kaddas’ steps of the “How To” guide.
Step One – Identify individuals with an inclination for science
For Kaddas, her interest in science was an extension of her innate talents and abilities.
“I think I’m a ‘How does this work?’ kind of person,” Kaddas stated. “I like knowing how things work; I like knowing there’s a logical order to this.”
Step Two – While young, encourage and develop that interest through teacher and parental support
Kaddas credits much of her science interest to that of her parents.
“My mom was all about science when I was little. She would get little chemistry sets, like making volcanoes in your kitchen,” Kaddas said. “My parents are really outdoorsy so we were always hiking…my mom would [ask] ‘Do you know what plant this is? Do you know what bird this is?’”
Kaddas also credits her interest in science to her time in junior high school.
“When I got to junior high, I had an amazing teacher…she was really experiment driven…I think that’s the thing that has been really big for me is more like the experimental side of things… when you see real experiments that’s a lot more interesting,” she said.
“She was a really cool teacher, too, because after school, she was endlessly there. And you could just come in after school and she would [say], ‘Well, I have this experiment kit. Want to do it?’” Kaddas said.
Step Three – During college, continue encouraging students while finding ways to make science applicable to them
When Kaddas was 18, she was diagnosed with Raynaud’s Phenomenon. This disorder is characterized by a loss of blood flow to the hands and feet, resulting in color changes of the skin. Kaddas became educated about her own condition while doing research for a class assignment.
“When I was in my freshman Biology 101 class, we were talking about having to pick something to do a report on and I didn’t know what to do a report on. So they [the professors] said ‘Think about things [conditions] you have’,” stated Kaddas.
“After my presentation, my professor came up to me and said, ‘That was really cool. Do you know anything [more] about that?’ and I said, ‘Not really.’ So I went and did a bunch of reading on NIH (National Institutes of Health) and found out that there’s a whole bunch of connective tissue disorder syndromes and a bunch of inflammatory autoimmune disorders for both; [for] people who have them, there’s a really high percentage of those people who have Raynaud’s.” she said.
By learning more about her own condition, Kaddas developed a greater desire to attend graduate school. Kaddas’ professor further encouraged her to think about a career in research, specifically focusing on the study of autoimmune disorders. This encouragement, and knowing that there is a link between Raynaud’s Phenomenon and rheumatoid arthritis from her own research, led Kaddas to do undergraduate research in a Lyme arthritis laboratory on campus.
Step Four – Retention
Kaddas plans to continue her education after taking a year sabbatical.
“I do have a game plan. I’m going to take a year off because I didn’t take any breaks during school. So I’m going to take a year off, probably work as a lab tech if I can find a lab tech job and then I’m going to apply for grad school in an immunology program,” she said.
Kaddas has noticed that the culture in Utah plays a large part in the retention of females in science. Many females in Utah value either being a mother or having a career, however, few recognize they can do both.
“I know a lot of girls who are graduating this year and I know a lot of girls who are pregnant,” she said. “They’ve told me, ‘Yeah, I have a degree in biology but I’m not going to do anything with it.’ But that is something I’ve noticed, a lot of my friends are like ‘Oh well, I’m getting married now’ or ‘I’m pregnant now and I’m not going on to grad school. I’m done with school.’”
“I think it depends on how you’re raised a lot, too. That is a factor. I have friends who are LDS (Latter Day Saint) and I’m LDS and I don’t want kids for a long time. I want to get my career started. That’s an important thing to me, having my PhD is a really important thing,” she said.
Kaddas is an anomaly in the Utah culture because she realizes she can be both a mother and still have a career in science.
“I know people who are really, really smart and they’re going to have a science degree and they’re going to do nothing with it. I can’t imagine doing that,” she said.