Tabitha Moses – MD/PhD Student at Wayne State University
Life Inside the Lab:
What is your research topic? I haven’t picked a specific topic for my PhD yet (beyond Neuroscience), but most of my work has been on addiction and mental illness in humans. I am particularly interested in the link between trauma and addiction, and I plan to continue working in this area.
I currently have a problem with choosing just one thing (as you might be able to tell from the fact that I am aiming for both an MD and a PhD), so in addition to the science I also work in bio- and neuroethics. I have researched a number of different topics in these fields, but my main foci are addiction, emerging neurotechnologies, and neurodiversity.
Tabitha Moses is a MD/PhD Student at Wayne State University. Follow her science on Twitter at @back2brains.
What was your best day of science? Finishing my first first-author manuscript.
This was before even submitting it to the journal. It was just really amazing to have this document in front of me that was based on the first real research project I had carried out in full, from the research project itself to completing all the background work needed and culminating with the writing (of course, with heavy editing and feedback). The proverbial icing on the cake was when it was accepted with revisions, but it was before that moment that I really felt like a real researcher for the first time.
What was your worst day in science? Realizing that an entire data set (with thousands of variables and hundreds of subjects) and been copied and pasted incorrectly such that it was impossible to tell what data was correct. Luckily, no papers had been written from these data yet, but I still had to tell my P.I. the problem and how it happened, which meant telling him who made the mistake (and it sucks to have to throw someone else under the bus when they made an innocent mistake). I then had to figure out a way to fix the problem and the resulting clean-up took months of painful work.
What are you studying at university? I have always struggled to pick just one thing, so I double-majored in Cognitive Science and Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Cognitive Science was a great choice for me because it included a variety of different areas including neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, philosophy of mind, and computer science. I completed a Masters in Biotechnology to gain a greater depth of hard science knowledge. Now, I am in an MD/PhD program at Wayne State University in Detroit and I plan to complete my PhD in Neuroscience.
What does your average day look like? I am in the medical school years of my program, so right now my day involves a lot of classes and memorizing. My school allows us to stream lectures from home, which means I have to manage my time carefully. Much of my day is spent at home. I am not a morning person, so I try to get up around 9am to get ready for the day. I begin by streaming the lectures that started at 9am and try to watch them all in the morning. The afternoon/evening is for studying and any other projects I’m working on. Because I have an array of different things going on and I structure most of my own time, an “average day” doesn’t really exist in my life. That said, there are some regular activities, which include volunteering at the school-organized Street Medicine Clinic, being part of the American Medical Association Board, tutoring at a Children’s Center (as a volunteer), research, and my own personal projects. While I am not required to carry out research while I am taking medical school classes, I still try to go into the lab once every couple of weeks. Currently, I am finishing up a manuscript from my summer project when I go in is very flexible.
Life Outside of Lab
Where did you grow up? For the most part, I grew up in a small village in England called Goring-on-Thames; my school was about an hour away by bus. Since leaving England for University in the USA when I was 18, I have managed to only live in cities (Baltimore, New York, and Detroit) and hope to continue with city life for the foreseeable future!
What profession did you think you would be when you were a kid? I wanted to be a physician for as long I can remember, although there was a 6-month period when I was about five during which I wanted to be an archeologist because I wanted to be able to get muddy without being told off.
What do you do to relax outside of lab? As boring as it may sound, I really like being at home just relaxing with my cats. I also have a minor book addiction and find reading very relaxing. When I have a little more time (and spare money) I love to travel. Recently, my partner and I have been trying to take little weekend trips to places that are within reasonable driving distance; that way we can explore the area around us without spending significant time and money on air travel and accommodation.
Do you have any pets? Two cats: Tigger and Oscar. They are brothers, both eight years old. I got them when they were 6 weeks old. In my sophomore year of college, my roommate really wanted to foster cats and I agreed, so we took in a mother cat and three kittens. Unfortunately, I have problems with separation, so the deal was that we could keep two of those kittens and also keep fostering. So Tigger and Oscar remained and helped us take care of the new kittens we fostered.
Is there any one event or person who/that made you want to be a scientist? There was one television show that first exposed me to research, and while it took me until college to really understand how one could have a career as a researcher, I think it was that show that was responsible for planting the proverbial seed in my mind. In 2000, the BBC aired a show called Child of Our Time. It was hosted and organized by Dr. Robert Winston and was basically a giant televised experiment (I still wonder how it got past any ethics board). Robert Winston and his team (and a camera crew) followed 25 children born in 2000 and conducted social experiments with them and their families as they aged (a new set of episodes would air each year). It was my first exposure to experiments like the Marshmallow test, experiments that were with people and did not need a Bunsen burner or a fume hood, and I just thought it was amazingly cool. Of course, my unethical pre-teen self decided that I wanted to create my own experiment, so my plan was to have identical decuplets when I was an adult and give one to each of my friends to raise and see how they turned out. Clearly unethical, but I think it was the first experiment I designed!
Why do you think it is important to have more women in STEM? I know it has been said a lot recently, but I don’t think it can be overstated: it is vital that children have role models that look like them in all fields, especially STEM.
I realized when answering the question before this that most of the people in STEM I admired when I was in high school or worked with after college have been men. My (male) advisor in college suggested I find women who had MD/PhDs to talk to before I applied for those programs because it was a very difficult road for a woman and conflicts with family life. Whether or not I agree with the way he phrased that suggestion, he was correct in that it is important to young women to have women to look up to in the field and to learn about the field from.
What is your best advice for girls interested in science? Go out and get what you want. My first full time job after college was at a job where I was told I would be involved in writing papers. The P.I. was very busy and those papers never really happened. After a while I realized that I should stop waiting for people to offer me the opportunity and just ask for it instead.
This was best illustrated by the time I approached a scientist/ethicist whom I deeply admire and I asked whether there was any way I could work with her. We hadn’t meet formally; I had just read her work and listened to her talk. She said yes, so we proceeded to work together (remotely) on a project that actually should be published within the next month or two. It was an amazing opportunity. I learned a lot and had fun, and it all came from having pushed away any fear of embarrassment or rejection and just asking.
Are there any women in STEM who are inspiring you right now, and why? Frankly, many of the [often unknown to me] women I talk to (or just follow) on Twitter are inspiring me right now. Women who openly discuss mental illness in academia, something that many refuse to do. Women who now run their own labs and are using that power to speak out about the issues still facing many women in STEM today, like sexual harassment. Women who think up amazing projects like a magazine for neuroscience and outreach education through art, or projects like this women in STEM blog (not too seem too sycophantic!); and they do this work on this side, all while being amazing in their daily lives as well.
In the non-digital world, I have always found Dr. Judy Illes inspiring. Dr. Illes is a neuroscientist and leading neuroethicist who is internationally recognized for her research, outreach work, and mentorship. She is also a strong advocate for women in STEM and a wonderful mentor who was willing to work with a random person (me!) who went up to her at a conference and asked to work with her.
What was your biggest challenge during your degree? Speaking. I hate public speaking. I even get nervous talking in groups of people I know. About a year before starting my current program I decided to let fate decide what I did. I submitted abstracts to conferences and since I was experiencing Imposter Syndrome in a way that seems to be common in many academics (especially women), I assumed they would all be rejected. Instead I ended up having a number of posters and four different presentations accepted. I almost backed out of the first conference presentation after I received the acceptance, but my supportive partner pushed me to do it. We worked for hours on my presentation, practicing it over and over, and I made it through the entire thing. In fact, I actually just gave two presentations yesterday and was still a nervous wreck about them but I am gaining confidence and skills, so I’m hoping it can only get easier.
What do you listen to while writing? Well, here’s where you get to find out my embarrassing secrets: I like to listen to bad, upbeat 90s and early 00s pop music when I’m writing. Sometimes I need extra focus, and I find words in English to be distracting, so I listen to crappy Spanish-language pop.
What was your favorite subject in high school? Biology. But only human biology. I hated when we had to learn about plants.
What is the strangest thing on your desk right now? I like to work on the dining room table because I can spread out all my stuff, so…If dining room table = desk then there is currently a cake on my desk.
Organization nut, or curated chaos? Organization all the way. I love Google Calendar and to-do lists and planning everything; it helps keep me sane.
Any other fun fact about you… I am a wonderful example of “use it or lose it”.
When I was three and four years old I lived in Italy, went to an Italian school, and spoke Italian (as well as a 4 year old speaks any language). Apparently I hated the school and when we moved back to England I refused to ever speak Italian. I remember none of it now and I’ve tried taking classes to see if the language memories are hidden in my brain and nothing comes back.
What color socks are you wearing? Purple with pink flowers on them. They are wonderfully warm and fluffy!
Follow Tabitha on Twitter @back2brains.