Samantha Keil is a postdoctoral research fellow in neuroscience, who lived most recently in Chicago but is transitioning to Seattle. She loves being a constant sponge of information, NPR podcasts and would go to Kyoto, Japan, a million more times. Read on to learn what gets her excited to wake up every day, and the one thing she wishes people would ask her.
- Name: Samantha Keil
- Location: Chicago, IL – currently transitioning to Seattle
- Role: Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Neuroscience
- Reason for Waking Up Every Day: Questions – and her work.
- Next Thing She’s Going to Learn: How to conquer imposter syndrome
- Go-To Learning Resource: NPR podcasts like Hidden Brain and Invisibilia and Meta.org
- Favorite Place in Chicago: The Lakeshore path & any Dark Matter Coffee
- Find Out More: @adventuresofascientist
Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are now.
I decided to pursue neuroscience research as a career while studying eastern Chinese medicine in China during a study abroad with Augustana College. Neuroscience – the study of the brain and nervous system as a whole – seems the last frontier of biological research. Like most science research tracks, this meant an additional degree and pursuing a PhD. I recently completed my PhD (a 6-year process) at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
What made you want to pursue your profession/area of focus?
One of the things that makes neuroscience and biological research so intriguing to me is that it is very different from the standard 9-5. Basic science research requires you to follow irregular schedules and pursue the questions and research paradigms at hand, never really leaving your work at home. Often the more answers your research gives you, the more questions you have.
What gets you excited to wake up every day?
The questions and work that I’m pursuing are entirely my own, and I am lucky to be supported by a lab and research team that is interested in tangential research questions. Passion breeds passion, and has me excited to play my part in unveiling a piece of the puzzle that is the brain.
What’s the best/most important thing you’ve learned or taught yourself? Why?
The scientific process is defined by failure. Testing your hypothesis often results in a negative result and the requirement to tackle your questions from a different angle. This failure isn’t personal, and resilience and perseverance throughout the process will help you to achieve your goal regardless of whether or not that process looks different than you originally intended.
What’s the next thing you’re going to learn or teach yourself? Why?
As with many early-stage careers, imposter syndrome can become the norm. It’s easy to compare yourself to others in the field that have been at it for years longer than you have. In this next step, I intend to surround myself with the type of researchers and holistic support system that allows me to not only flourish but to recognize myself as an essential part of the field!
This failure isn’t personal, and resilience and perseverance throughout the process will help you to achieve your goal regardless of whether or not that process looks different than you originally intended.
Do you have advice for finding a strong mentor/ building a relationship with one?
I have had a particularly interesting experience with mentorship throughout graduate school. What I have found is that asking people about their science, and not being afraid to ask about your interests in relation to theirs, often finds you unexpected sources of support. Your mentor does not necessarily need to be, and is often not, your boss. There is absolutely no harm in asking someone about their process and advice and will often find you with another person on your team. Interpersonal interaction throughout any field will help you to find strong support to help you succeed, and the sooner in the process you can do this, the better!
Favorite resources for ongoing learning?
Part of neuroscience research is being a constant sponge of new information. While at the bench, I’m a big fan of NPR podcasts (Hidden Brain and Invisibilia in particular). As far as science research, I’ve recently become a big fan of Meta.org for peer-reviewed topics in general. I also think Twitter (kindly referred to as Science Twitter) has bred an excellent environment for collaboration and research information for young scientific researchers.
What’s your favorite spot where you currently live & why?
I have so many spots within Chicago that I frequent. When I need a second to decompress, my favorite spot in the city is the lakeshore path right by North Ave beach, especially at sunrise. When the city is quiet and waking, it’s humbling and a great reminder of how much more is out there. Otherwise, I cannot rave more about Dark Matter coffee (all locations), as my favorite life source throughout graduate school.
Out of all the places you’ve been, which has been your favorite and why?
I have been lucky enough with my irregular schedule to have traveled a lot on a budget. I try to adhere to always visiting a new location rather than repeating a travel destination, but I would go to Kyoto, Japan, a million more times. The way the city has integrated nature and culture within its bustling city center is beautiful.
Related: Find more great things to do in Illinois here (including spots like Chicago, Galena and more!).
Bonus: What’s the one thing you wish people would ask you?
Anything about science! Although my research questions are incredibly specific, I’m fascinated by such a broad range of topics and try to stay pretty informed. I have taught about a different topic, Synesthesia (when you have cross-sensory modalities like seeing colors when you listen to music), and I could talk about that for hours!