By Heather Burkhart
Many of us often assume that all scientists fall victim to the theory of left- or right-brain dominance, exhibiting a strictly logical and calculating nature in both the workplace and our personal lives. This, however, is simply not the case. For example, take a look at Elizabeth Mermel, who is both scientific superstar and t-shirt designer extraordinaire, proving that both sides of the brain are better than one.
Coming from a science-loving family, Elizabeth grew up with those passions already engrained in her life. Her father would often read to her from Science News and her mother, who possessed a deep affection for geology and anthropology, would discuss the subjects with her daughter regularly, and all from a very early age. The question was never “What should I do when I grow up?” but “How should I pursue this love for science?” Elizabeth explained how she attempted to narrow down her options. “In college, I decided to take one class in every science department. It was really fun and although I loved every single one of them, biology really stood out. This still wasn't very specific but it was a start!”
As Elizabeth moved through high school and college, she felt that the only options presented to biology students were to become an MD or a PhD. Not exactly interested in working in a laboratory all day, she decided to get a job at a hospital and study for the MCATs while applying to various medical schools. She worked as a Clinical Research Assistant for two years before she decided she was ready to move on to bigger and better things. Mentioning that her MCAT scores were not particularly good, Elizabeth began looking at MPH programs as a means of bolstering her chances of getting into med school. “Luckily, I found an amazing program that offered a Masters in Microbiology and Emerging Infectious Disease that combined coursework from a public health school and a med school. I loved microbiology in college and infectious diseases were a strong interest of mine, so I joined the program. …What I discovered was that epidemiology really appealed to the analytical, big picture side of me. I loved it! And I learned this was a lot closer to what I was looking for rather than a means to an end. Working so hard for something that my heart wasn't truly in - med school - was very challenging for me, but finding infectious disease epidemiology allowed me to finally let that go.”
After Elizabeth had graduated with her Master’s Degree and was applying to epidemiology positions, she finally had some flexibility in her schedule to allow her to develop a hobby she had always been interested in: screen printing! In 2012 she started her own business, Fraggles & Friggles, as a result, saying, “The science and puns just came naturally!” Fraggles & Friggles is a family-run business, providing t-shirts, jewelry and prints “for the science nerd in all of us.” Adding to a skill set obtained during her years of work and education, this business has offered new opportunities for growth and ability. “Owning a business has definitely taught me customer service and I try to keep this in mind when I work with "clients" at my day job, whether that's the general public, patients, or stakeholders. I also feel like it offers some variety in my life. I have a lot to look forward to when I come home and get to work on my shop.”
Epidemiology has opened up a lot of doorways for Elizabeth, and she believes it is an exceptional option for people who are interested in biology or health. She says, “You can focus on policy, technology/social media, biology, or statistics. And then you can work for [the] government, a private health organization, a pharmaceutical company, a hospital, or a professional society! The options are vast and it's definitely worth investigating to see if it's for you.” She also has some words of wisdom for anyone interested in starting their own business. “I recommend that you 1. Go for it! 2. Invest just small sums up front and then re-invest the money that you make back in to your business. This way it will grow with you and you can take the time to figure out the details and the direction of your business. And if you have any questions, email me!”
So for any of you who are unsure about taking those first steps toward epidemiology, infectious disease, or even starting your own company, breathe easy, because you’ve already got a friend in the business!
Elizabeth is giving Scientista readers a 25% discount at www.fragglesandfriggles.etsy.com! Use the coupon code “Scientista25“ (without quotes).
About the Author
Heather is an energetic science writer and recent graduate from the linguistics program at the University of Utah where she developed an interest in studying aphasia and other language properties of the brain. She is currently Co-Managing Editor for The Scientista Foundation, and editor for its Scientista Spotlight section. When she is not writing in a cozy corner of her home, she is most likely exploring the beautiful outdoor landscape of Utah.
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