STEM Story: Interview with Amanda Wroble
Interview with Amanda Wroble, Chemist at the EPA By Mary Catherine Hanafee Laplante 1. What is your name and occupation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? My name is Amanda Wroble and I am a chemist at the laboratory in the analytical services branch. 2. Did you always know that you wanted to become a scientist, or was there an event/person that inspired you to go into the STEM field? I didn't always want to be a scientist. In fact, when I was younger I wanted to be a doctor like most people. But when I was a junior in high school I had an amazing chemistry teacher. It was my first experience with chemistry and she started the class by saying chemistry is like a new language. One might not understand it at first, and it is challenging because it is not always intuitive. That experience led me to think that chemistry and science are really cool. I credit her with making me excited to go to chemistry class. 2. What is the most challenging aspect of your job? The most challenging thing is managing working and being a mom at the same time because I have three kids. In my occupation, my biggest challenge is managing different priorities, which is similar to being a working mom. A lot of science is not only doing the science itself, but also in our lab we have accreditation so there is a lot of documentation that we have to do. We have to revise documents and take care of our equipment. We don’t just go in, turn on the instrument, and analyze samples. In addition to being a chemist, I'm also a sample coordinator of the lab, so part of my job is assessing whether I need to be in the lab that day or if I need to talk to the chemist about a certain project. It's really just managing what needs to be done right now and what clients and chemists can wait a little bit for. 3. As a woman in the STEM field, did you ever face gender-based adversity while in school or at work? I don't really feel like there was any adversity, but in graduate school when I took more of the higher-level classes there were definitely a lot more men than women, but that did not make it harder for me to take those classes. However, I traveled outside of the United States with an exchange program when I was in school and it was interesting because I was definitely treated differently as a female and there was a lot less expected of me, which was really unusual. I don't feel any of that in my work, school, or anything else that I've done in the U.S. 4. What is your favorite thing about your job? I'm actually a planner, so I like to organize. I'm in charge of my priorities so I enjoy being able to design my own day. Obviously, I have a boss and my boss assigns me tasks, but a lot of days I come to work and it’s kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure. I generally try to do things in the most efficient way, but I can also choose what I want to do. For example, today I had a notification on my computer that I needed to turn in the pipettes because I need to get them certified. But after that, I could choose what project I wanted to work on for the rest of the day. In addition, I also enjoy working with things that can’t be seen to the naked eye. I work a lot with metal, and metal can’t be seen in water. I think it’s fascinating that technology exists to allow me to detect each low concentration. I also enjoy when I do projects that relate to me. For example, it is exciting to be able to test things that apply to my daily life, like drinking water. I am making a difference and helping to make the environment better for everyone. 5. What is some advice you would give to young girls who want to become scientists in the future? I would say that if you're interested in something science-related don't think that science is for men and don't listen to people that say “oh you shouldn’t make a career out of that”. There are a lot of things that you encounter when you are growing up that you don’t even think about being a career, but it can be. If you love something and are interested in it then you should pursue it. Start asking your family members and friends who work in science for contacts. Tell people that you are really interested in making science into your career. I would encourage my children to go do something science-related because I think it's an important field to go into. It’s challenging, but it's good to have a challenge in life. 6. If you weren’t working at the EPA, what would you be doing? I really liked research and development in college, so I researched organic photovoltaics. I was really interested in getting a job for that. But if I wasn't at the EPA, I would like to have any type of science job where I could do cutting edge research and development. In addition, I love to bake and baking is basically chemistry. I think it would be fun to own a bakery sometime in the future. I would also like to take coding classes. I think when you work at a job for a long time you start to see things that you're better at. Over time I became aware that I was good at spreadsheets and computers. I think I would like to set up certain programs for different companies because I feel like I have a knack for looking at a process and helping to remake it. These are the kind of things that I have stumbled upon over the years that I think I'm good at. 7. If you could pick one particular project you have worked on at the EPA that has greatly impacted you, what would it be? Flint was the big one that sticks in my mind and I think most people here at the lab would feel the same way. We were working from the second we got in until the end of the day. Sometimes we would work late and on weekends. It also helped me to look at the processes that I do and streamline them to get rid of extra steps to work more efficiently. This project also serves a purpose for the people because we all drink water. It gave me information about the type of water that we're drinking and it made me think about what would happen if I am in a situation where I didn't have any. Unfortunately, Flint is not unique and we should be cognizant of the fact that it is important to have clean water. That project also reminded me of the importance of teamwork and communication. It was vital that there was open communication between supervisors, lab technicians, and our groundwater/drinking water branch in order to reduce mistakes made during the collecting, analyzing, and reporting steps. 9. What is your experience like working for the government, and how do you think this compares to working for a private corporation? First of all, I have been here for about 10 years, and I would say that there is a certain amount of job security in the government. It's not about making a profit, it's about helping people. One drawback is that morale in the office often fluctuates based on each administration. In a private company, the workload and administration would be a lot more stable as well. 10. What is one mistake you made as a scientist that still sticks in your mind, and how did you overcome it? There isn’t one mistake that sticks in my mind, but there are a series of little mistakes. I think making these little mistakes gives me an opportunity to evaluate the process and review data in order to come up with a way to not make those same mistakes again.