Women of STEM

A profile series highlighting women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Christa Chatfield, Assistant Professor of Biology

Christa Chatfield, Assistant Professor of Biology

Christa Chatfield, Ph.D, Assistant Professor at State Universities of New York (SUNY) Cortland, Department of Biological Sciences

What is your job like?

I spend most of my time teaching students microbiology and basic biology. I prepare and give lectures, write and grade assignments, and meet with students to answer questions about the material. I primarily teach during the school year, but I work full time in the summer doing research. I have students that I train while completing my own experiments to understand the biology of bacteria that cause human diseases.

Can you describe a day in the life of your job?

During the school year, I am in my office for most of the day responding to emails, working on departmental tasks (new hires, etc.) and preparing instructional materials for class. Once a week I spend the entire day teaching labs, where students get to complete hands-on experiments in growing and examining bacteria.

How did you become interested in your field?

I was a Chemistry major in college, but lucked into a job in a plant pathology lab, where they studied tomato pathogens. I was hooked on bacteria- so small but so powerful as a group!

What science shows do you watch?

I love Mythbusters. They don’t always get the scientific method right, but they are open to critiques (a key aspect of science!) and will repeat experiments to get them right. So fun!

Do you have any media (movies, books, etc.) to recommend? 

The Omnivores Dilemma and The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, and all of Mary Roach’s books are some the best science writing around.

Did anyone inspire you to get active in STEM or help you along the way? 

My dad is a very Mr. Fix it, and watching (and helping) him to use my hands to solve problems around the house was great inspiration for the world of science. My mom is a teacher, so she inspired me to train the next generation of scientists.

What advice would you give a student looking to go into your field?

In order to be successful in STEM you have to be able and willing to work hard. The fields are always expanding, there is so much we know, and to really excel in the field, you really do have to learn a lot of basic information. Don’t give up, but ask for help and work hard if you love what you are doing.

What advice would you give an adult looking to become more involved in your field? 

In order to be a microbiologist, professionally, you will need an advanced degree. But there are (for the hobbyist) great ways to use microbiology for fun- fermented foods would be my suggestion, as a I am a home brewer myself (microbe make sauerkraut, beer, yogurt!).

Anna Czupryna, Serengeti Health Initiative Coordinator and PhD Candidate

Anna Czupryna, Serengeti Health Initiative Coordinator and PhD Candidate

Kerri Allen, Education Manager at Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Kerri Allen, Education Manager at Loggerhead Marinelife Center