An interview with Alison (Allie) Smith

Name: Alison (Allie) Smith

Current Job: Ph.D. Candidate

Scientific Discipline/Field: Developmental Biology

Country: United States of America

Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q,+, etc.): G,Q

Twitter or other social media handle: @EctopicEyeQueer

What does your job involve?

I study cell determination during development and how that can go awry. Specifically, I study what happens when you challenge a cell with two fates. How does it choose one or another or does it stay somewhere in between?

How did you get to this job (education etc.)?

I am currently a graduate student within Dr. Justin Kumar’s lab working on this research project.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

When I was applying for graduate school I did a lot of research on each state, county and town for LGBTQ+ protections, laws, and anti-LGBTQ+ crimes etc. It was really overwhelming to have to also think about all of that on top of picking a graduate school program. This held true when picking a lab. I wanted to make sure I had a PI who would be accepting of me and go to bat for me if push came to shove and Dr. Justin Kumar was that PI for me. I believe this will continue on unfortunately in the future because as I look for Post Doc opportunities I have been weighing the same considerations and more now that my partner and I are thinking about and looking into becoming parents.

Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?

It is hard because there is always both. There is always the occasional joke that someone seems “funny” but is actually really offensive. I have struggled a lot getting people to use my pronouns. I use they/them pronouns but still after countless reminders some people still default to the pronouns I used when they met me, which were she/her. Being the co-founder of the Biology LGBTQ+ Group at IU has been incredible because it was there that I was able to find a community of people to help advocate for change in our department! They are all truly the COOLEST people and I am lucky to know them.

Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated.)?

I am a first generation college student so the first scientist I met wasn’t until high school. That being said I was OBSESSED with Osmosis Jones and Dexter’s Laboratory as a child. I wanted to be cool scientists just like them. My biggest STEM role model has and probably always will be my undergraduate PI Dr. Bronwyn Bleakley. She is an incredible scientist, advocate, writer, presenter, teacher etc. etc. I could write a novel about her. At my undergraduate college Stonehill College my LGBTQ role models were two of the men who worked in the Student Activities office Jim Hermelbracht and Patrick Keaney. As a student heavily involved in student government and orientation and also their work study student I spent countless hours in their office talking about life. Fun fact: Patrick was one of the very first people I came out to Jim would’ve been too but I think he was in a meeting at the time.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to be a PI at a primary undergraduate institution (PUI) where I can meld all of my favorite things together: teaching, mentoring, researching and outreach. I am also heavily involved in advocacy so if I don’t go into academia my dream career would be a study coordinator at the National Academy of Science.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Next to microscopy, my cats and tacos advocacy is my passion!

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