Cheerleader to present research, American Chemical Society, annual mtg

Margaret recently hung up her pompoms (cheerleader for the Baltimore Blast, a professional indoor soccer team) as she inches ever-so-closer towards her PhD in Chemistry! This gal, who was told “people will never take you seriously if they find out you’re a cheerleader,” will be presenting her research on functionalizing gold nanoparticles for the treatment of cancer, particularly metastatic pancreatic cancer, at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in Anaheim, CA this year!
Meet Margaret and eight other Science Cheerleaders on March 16 at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., where they’ll perform as part of the White House’s celebration of Women in History Month!

Details to follow shortly. In the interim, let’s learn more about Margaret:

SciCheer: So, Margaret, what turned you on to chemistry ?

Margaret: My parents and my science teachers in elementary school really played a huge part in how I got so interested in chemistry. In fifth grade, my parents bought me a chemistry set, which of course I used for a few of my science fair projects! Additionally, I was a part of a group when I was in junior high that went out and performed experiments at malls to get younger kids interested in science, too!

I also remember a time when my Mom and I went to a parade, but we got there so early that we decided to go into the local college (where Mom was taking classes) and roam around. We stumbled across a biology lab and the professor was still there. We stayed in that lab the entire time and completely missed the parade while I asked questions and meandered around the lab!

SciCheer: What did you major in?

Margaret: I received my B.S. in Chemistry and minor in Theatre from Villanova University, Villanova, PA (where I was a cheerleader!). I went directly into graduate school to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), in Catonsville, MD, and will hopefully be graduating next year !

SciCheer: Favorite and/or least favorite courses you took to prepare for your degree?

Margaret: You know, I can’t really say there’s a class I completely disliked. Some required a lot more time than others, but in general they were all very interesting to me. But my favorite class would have to be the Nanoparticles course I took with my current advisor, Dr. Marie-Christine Daniel-Onuta. Nanotechnology is still a new field and we’ve barely scratched the surface of it’s potential, so learning the basics of what we know about it now was a lot of fun and extremely interesting!

SciCheer: When did you cheer for the Baltimore Blast?

Margaret: I cheered for the Baltimore Blast from 2008 to 2010. The Baltimore Blast is a professional indoor soccer team, and the cheerleaders are coached by Liz Guaraldo, a former Washington Redskins Cheerleader. The great thing about the Blast games is that they’re extremely family-oriented. Kids would constantly come down and ask for our autographs and pictures. I loved it so much!

SciCheer: Which came first? Your interest in chemistry or cheerleading?

Margaret: I definitely was interested in chemistry first! But I was also a sports gal when I was younger. Many are surprised to hear that I played softball, baseball (the only girl on 14 teams!), volleyball, a little bit of soccer and basketball, and ran track in school. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I tried out for the cheerleading team – and didn’t make it. So I tried out for the dance team/kick line and made that, but moved a few months later. I ended up making the varsity squad at my new high school with no cheerleading experience whatsoever. I followed that through to cheering at Villanova University, where I was the captain of the all-girl squad for 3 years in a row, and one of six cheerleaders that majored in chemistry in my 4 years!

SciCheer: Can you describe a typical day? Also, what does someone with a PhD in Chemistry do!?

Margaret: I’m in the lab doing research most of the day. The evenings are my own time. I try to keep up with my fitness, but I’m also an advisor for the Kappa Delta chapter at Towson University (yes, I’m a sorority girl, too!), the president of the Baltimore Alumnae Chapter of Kappa Delta, the WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) Graduate Association Treasurer, and I take a couple of dance classes during the week. I play a few sports in the Baltimore social leagues with my fellow chemistry peers, including softball during the summer, football in the spring and volleyball currently. When I cheered, I did all of that as well, but replace the dance classes with practice and add on games, appearances and photo shoots during the weekends!

Someone with a Ph.D. in chemistry can do just about anything. Many people automatically think “teacher,” and yes, that is one option, but there are so many more opportunities out there! I have a friend who currently works for Frito Lay as a food chemist. I also have a friend that works for the EPA as an environmental scientist. However, you can also work on cosmetics, fragrances, textiles, hard materials (plastics, metals, etc.), and so much more! Just about every company that creates something could use a PhD in chemistry, and the possibilities are endless!

SciCheer: You’re a real Chemistry Cheerleader…go girl! Did you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helped or hindered your studies or professional experiences? (Were you taken seriously?)

Margaret: Unfortunately, I ran into a lot of experiences where stereotypes came into play – some helped and others hindered me along the way. I did research at Villanova during the summers after my freshman and sophomore years. When I couldn’t seem to get a co-op or internship for my third summer, I went to my research advisor and asked if I could do research again that summer. His response was, “Yes, but if you want to do research, you can’t cheer.” I was shocked and dismayed that he would put me in that position, but he thought that cheerleading took up too much of my time, even though I tried to convince him that cheerleading was only 2 weekends during the summer. However, shortly thereafter, I received a call from Rohm and Haas asking me to interview for a co-op. During the interview, my would-be boss’s boss came in and was extremely pleased to see that I was a cheerleader. He figured that I could liven up the labs, and I ended up with the co-op for the summer out of over 700 applicants.

In my time, I’ve run into professors that have asked me (constantly) when I was going to quit cheerleading and focus on chemistry. I’ve come across peers that have said that “people will never take you seriously if they find out you’re a cheerleader.” One professor even told me that I was a good scientist and I’ll make it in the world of chemistry, but I will have to “change as a person make it in graduate school.” All of these experiences have broken my heart, because, well, who wants to be judged for their hobbies? But in the end, they encouraged me to prove them wrong – to prove that yes, I CAN be cheerleader AND be a scientist! I believe I’ve succeeded and I’m happy with who I am. That’s all that matters to me.

SciCheer: How did your fellow cheerleaders accept your interest in chemistry?

Margaret: To be honest, they thought it was the coolest thing! Some of them would shake their head and say “I could NEVER do that! WOW!” What really made me proud was when I could explain my research to them, and for them to completely understand what I was saying. They actually became a little more interested in chemistry and my research the more that I talked about it!

SciCheer; Do you have any advice for youngsters who might feel torn between following one dream (cheerleading, etc) or the other (a STEM career)?

Margaret: Go for what your heart tells you to do and don’t let ANYONE hold you back! If it makes you happy, then you should do it. Life is WAY too short to be anything but happy!! There are plenty of athletes out there that have successful STEM careers – cheerleading is no different, despite the stereotypes. The main keys to success are time management and drive – if you have both, you can do anything you want!

SciCheer: Along these lines, what advice would you give your 12-year-old self?

Margaret: Keep doing what you’re doing, girl! Life is too short to be anything but happy! 🙂

SciCheer: What are your plans for the future?

Margaret: After I graduate, I want to work for the government and hopefully research cancer. My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer many years back, and thankfully the doctors caught it early enough that she’s still with us today, but that is what really propelled me towards cancer research.

SciCheer: Best cheerleading experience?

Margaret: My favorite Villanova cheerleading experience was cheering at the women’s basketball game versus UConn during the Big East Championship in 2007, winning and breaking their 72 game winning streak! My next favorite would be the following season when UConn came and played at Villanova for the first ever sold out women’s basketball game!

My favorite Baltimore Blast experience would definitely be cheering the championship game in 2009 and winning! Aside from that, the photoshoot for the 2009-2010 swimsuit calendar would take second place!

SciCheer: Best science-related experience?

Margaret: I would have to say that getting the co-op at Rohm and Haas was probably my favorite experience. It allowed me to get experience in an industrial job while still in school full time. But this might be trumped within a month – I was accepted to give an oral presentation of my research at the upcoming American Chemical Society national meeting in Anaheim, CA, so I’m very excited about that!

SciCheer: Congratulations, Margaret! Thrilled to have you on board as a Science Cheerleader! Thank you.

  • John Takao Collier

    Margaret – Bravo for you, from both a scientific and cheerleading point of view. I have a personal interest in your research, since my Dad died of metastatic pancreatic cancer over 25 years ago. My Dad was 53 when he passed away, and I’m now 52, so I keep a sharp eye on pancreatic cancer research.

  • Thank you so much for your kind words, John! I’m terribly sorry to hear about your father. Stories like yours are part of the driving force behind why I do what I do. If you have any specific questions, please send me a message and I’ll answer as best as I can. Thank you again!

  • John Takao Collier

    Margaret – Thank you very much for the offer. I’ve Googled “gold nanoparticles cancer” and read some articles, but if you know a particular article or two that I should read (and can provide a pointer), I’d appreciate it. If you feel it’s necessary to contact me directly, Darlene knows how to get in touch with me.