This week’s #WCWinSTEM is Dr. Michelle T. Tong, a behavioral neuroscientist interested in understanding smell, memory and STEM-ed!
As compiled by Leolene Carrington, Ph.D.
Dr. Tong is also responsible for the longest-running #VanguardSTEM watch party we know of at Earlham College. We’re super-excited to feature her and look forward to working with her even more closely in the future!
Where did you go to school?
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA Ph.D., Psychology
• Thesis: “A spatiotemporal examination of the molecular mechanisms involved in long- term memory for incrementally acquired information”
Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada B.Sc, Psychology(M); Biology(m)
• Thesis: “Culture, attention to mood, and the informative value of mood in judgement”
What do you do right now?
I’m currently an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. My lab studies the molecular mechanisms underlying olfactory and memory, both as a way of understanding sensory memory and as a model for how all memories work.
What made you choose your STEM discipline in the first place?
I was drawn to the olfactory sense by the mystery of it. In textbooks, it’s still often lumped into a chapter with the other senses, with either vision or audition getting their own giant chapters. The fact that we still had things to discover made me curious! When applying for grad schools, I looked for places with professors studying olfaction.
What’s one piece of advice you wish you had when you started your STEM journey?
Make yourself the kind of person who can learn something from anyone. Students often find themselves discouraged about a subject or course because a professor or teacher is boring, or students leave frustrated from a guest speaker because it wasn’t what they were “expecting.” Feel how you feel, but make it a habit to ask yourself “what is one insight I got from this activity/talk/class?”
“I think this mental discipline will help us realize that people have a lot more to give than we think.”
Do you have a woman of color in STEM shero? Who and why?
Dorothy Vaughan comes to mind immediately. Dorothy’s most admirable traits were her ability to see forward in her field, her diligence in learning the technical skills she needed to stay relevant, and the all important way that she trained others around her on those skills. Dorothy advanced in her field and she brought others with her.
Why do you think it’s important to highlight women of color in STEM?
WOC often find themselves on the margins of STEM. Every community has to be constantly self-reflective in order to grow, but when you’re in the centre it can be hard to see. WOC in STEM communities, including #VanguardSTEM, are often the only spaces where I’ve engaged in conversations about the need for changing paradigms. They have been the only spaces where I’ve felt like STEM was being self-reflective.
“We need to lift more STEM women of color up because we need to amplify the voices of STEM practitioners who are modeling reflection.”
Where are you on the interwebs?
Thank you, Dr. Tong for all that you contribute to the world of behavioral neuroscience and #STEM!
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