Female Scientist Feature: Susanna Harris

Female Scientist Feature: Susanna Harris

Female Scientist Feature: Susanna Harris

AmorSui is so excited to introduce you to our first feature, Susanna Harris, a 5th year PhD student in Microbiology at UNC Chapel Hill, and the founder of ph_d_epression, a collaborative community for PhDs, post-grads, and future graduate students to openly discuss mental health issues and get well-being advice, tools, and services. Today, we are talking about what makes her science mind tick and her best advice on how to dress professionally in the lab:

What is your research focus?

I study how bacteria affect plant roots and determine how certain bacteria can help resist disease that would normally kill the plants. My research helps farmers understand how to effectively use science to improve their agricultural operations.

What attracts you to science?

I was a curious kid when I was younger. I am one of those annoying kids who would always ask "why?" Even after I was given the answers to my initial questions, I would still continue to ask why until I was satisfied with the answer. In many ways, science satisfies my inner hunger to seek out truth.

What motivates you to continue to work in science?

A scientist's job is to ask multiple questions (or a hypothesis, if you want to be technical) and find ways to validate them through results from experiments. If the results don't match our hypothesis, then the cycle goes on and we keep asking questions until we get closer to the facts. I love how science allows me to learn and grow. Even though experiments are tough at times, I truly enjoy the process as I believe anything that is frustrating is just because you're learning something new.

What is your career aspiration? What do you want to do next?

I am looking forward to graduating with a PhD in spring 2020. After graduation, I plan to pursue a marketing-focused career working for an agricultural company. In recent years, I have been passionate about communicating science to the public. Although I don't know much about marketing, a role in this sector will allow me to leverage my communication experience in a more meaningful way. I know that the learning curve will be steep, but I love the challenge and I am excited to expand my skills and knowledge to effectively communicate agriculture science to the public.

What is the last accomplishment you celebrated?

I gave a talk at BacNet17 conference in Spain about my research, with 150-200 academia and industrial researchers attending the conference. Although I was scared at first, I was really happy with my talk and glad the presentation was received well among my peers.
I am also really excited about my upcoming speech that will be featured at Academia in Kentucky on October 8th, where I will talk about my personal experience with depression in graduate school. It is great to know there are other organizations that understand the importance of this issue that affects many students in graduate school, and who are willing to work with me to create meaningful change on this issue.

Tell me something you think is strange about you

I adopted two puppies, Hermes and Athena, a year ago. I think doing this is really strange for any PhD student because taking care of dogs (in my case raising two puppies) is time-consuming and expensive. However, it was the best decision of my life. Having my two dogs really helped me learn how to be more productive during the day.

And then we talked to Susanna about her fashion...


Could you describe your wardrobe?

My wardrobe consists of jeans, t-shirts, blouses, cardigans, converse, boots, flats, and dresses.

Do your outfits differ in/out of the lab?

I love wearing dresses and would probably wear them more often, but the dress code in my lab does not allow me to do that. One thing that I want to do more often is to dress more professionally. As I am approaching my graduation, I think dressing more professionally would prepare me for my next transition into the industry role that I am aiming for.

Do you have a dress code when working in your lab?

Yes. I usually have to follow a strict dress code to be fully protected on some days. I need to wear closed-toe shoes, hair tied up, no leg exposure (so no shorts or dresses unless also with tights), and a lab coat.


Why do you need to take precaution?

I work with a lot of chemicals that can burn or harm me if absorbed through skin contact. Often, I sit or stand for long period of times, which is why I gravitate towards comfortable clothes and shoes. On the weekends however, when I am allowed to wear whatever I want, I would dress nicer to feel both comfortable and confident.

What outfits would you normally wear when you need to look nice for presentations or talks?

I would normally wear a neutral-color outfit, nothing too feminine. I sometimes wear boots, sometimes wear heels. I want to be taken seriously so I dress more professionally for presentations.

What advice you would give to female scientists to dress more appropriately and professionally in the lab?

I think the most important thing is for you to feel confident in an outfit that fits you well and is comfortable to wear.
To learn more about Susanna and support her mission to advocate for mental health for graduate students, visit her GoFundMe campaign, or find her on PhDepression's Website, and Instagram

Want to be featured in our next blog? Fill out the form to nominate yourself, your friend, colleague, or mentor. We will write a feature and confirm with you before it is published, on a first-come-first-serve basis. To ensure you or someone you would like to nominate gets on our priority list, we are currently offering a reward on iFundWomen that will put you at the top of our publishing list. 

Did you know about our League of Women Scientists community? Learn more and join this exclusive Slack channel to network, collaborate, and get mentorship free until October 11th here.


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