There’s no single pathway into science, panelists tell teens

Members of the Department of Molecular Metabolism joined Boston-area teens to discuss careers in science

February 11, 2021–Ask loads of questions, follow your interests, and embrace failure. Those are just a few of the career tips members of the Department of Molecular Metabolism (MET) shared during a February 3, 2020 “Meet the Scientists” panel discussion hosted by the Boston Public Library and organized by several MET Outreach Committee members, including graduate students Christina Jayson and Noel Jackson and assistant professor of molecular metabolism Tony Hui.

The digital event, hosted under the library’s Youth Outreach initiative and intended primarily for Boston-area teenagers, covered everything from the nuts and bolts of pursuing a PhD to the sense of bliss that comes with making a discovery. It also offered an opportunity for MET experts to dispel some common misperceptions about scientists. “The Hollywood portrayal of scientists as stuffy and isolated just isn’t true,” said Ayon Ibrahim, a postdoctoral research scientist in the Farese & Walther Lab, who emphasized the inherently collaborative nature of science and the close relationships that are forged among lab members.

To offer varied perspectives and experience, the panel included scientists at different stages of their careers. Participants included graduate student Krystle Kalafut; three post docs, Aaron Hosios, Hatoon Baazim, and Ibrahim; and two professors, William Mair, associate professor of molecular metabolism, and Nora Kory, assistant professor of molecular metabolism. MET Outreach Committee member Jackson, a graduate student in the Mair Lab, moderated the discussion.

Audience members had plenty of questions, including how participants homed in on their respective fields and whether it’s ever too late to pursue an education in science. Mair told attendees that one of the greatest benefits to studying science is the versatility it offers in life. “Science opens many doors,” he said. “You can really go anywhere.”

Over the course of an hour, panelists agreed that there’s no single right way into science and most of them said they had no idea what a career in science actually consisted of when they were in high school. Kory recalled as a teenager nodding along when a chemistry teacher told her to steer clear of studying chemistry because she’d have to spend her life in the lab. Now she’s building her own lab team and is eager to guide junior researchers on the path to discovery.

Toward the end of the event, Jackson asked the panelists what they would tell their teenage self if they could go back in time. “Be patient,” Kory said. “And trust in yourself.”

Chris Sweeney

photo illustration: Kent Dayton