Meet a Scientist: Dr. Maureen Stolzer and Dr. Agustin Cruz
Jul 10
2019

Meet a Scientist: Dr. Maureen Stolzer and Dr. Agustin Cruz

By Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas, Research and Science Education Outreach Manager

All of the researchers featured on our Meet a Scientist Saturdays have received public engagement training through Phipps’ science communication workshops. If you are faculty, post-doc, graduate student or other professional in the sciences and you are interested in the workshop or participating in a Meet a Scientist Saturday, check out our website or email science education outreach manager Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas at mwheeler-dubas@phipps.conservatory.org.All of the researchers featured on our Meet a Scientist Saturdays have received public engagement training through Phipps’ science communication workshops. If you are faculty, post-doc, graduate student or other professional in the sciences and you are interested in the workshop or participating in a Meet a Scientist Saturday, check out our website or email science education outreach manager Dr. Maria Wheeler-Dubas at mwheeler-dubas@phipps.conservatory.org.

It may be hot outside, but Phipps has some cool Pittsburgh science to show off this weekend! Join us for Meet A Scientist this Saturday, July 13, from 1:30 – 3:30 in the Tropical Forest, and chat with two local researchers who study life on the small scale. Dr. Maureen Stolzer of Carnegie Mellon University will sharing about her work in understanding how new genes arise, and Dr. Agustin Cruz of the University of Pittsburgh will share about his work decoding the chemical signals that cells use to carry out daily functions and what will become of those cells long term.

Introduce yourself in 5 sentences or less.

Dr. Stolzer: Hi, I'm Dr. Maureen Stolzer and I'm a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University studying computational biology. That fancy phrase isn't as daunting as it sounds. I develop computer software and mathematical models to understand biological questions, especially questions about gene sequences.  In my work, I'm particularly interested in learning how new genes evolve. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, singing, and crafting.

 Dr. Cruz: I am Agustin Cruz, a postdoctoral researcher at Pitt. Curiosity always drives me to many questions about nature and human biology. I came from my home country Chile to Pitt pursuing answers to many of those questions. Now, I do research focusing on understanding the molecular components of intracellular signaling pathways (the chemical communications inside a cell that signal for important functions) and their role in what happens to those cells next.

Why did you become a scientist?

Dr. Stolzer: When I started college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life! I started out as an undeclared major with the feeling I would end up in an analytical field - I always did well in and enjoyed math and science, but wasn't sure which career tracks were available or the best for me. I ended up majoring in Math and Computer Science, with minors in Biology and Chemistry, after flip-flopping between math and biology majors over the first few years. But I still wasn't satisfied. How could I apply my skills to do interesting work?  In my senior year, I took a seminar on the emerging field of Bioinformatics, and I was hooked. Here was an area of research where people used math and computers to model biological systems, research science, and try to answer questions about how the natural world worked.

 Dr. Cruz: I became a scientist because I like asking questions, dreaming and thinking about creative answers to unsolved problems. As a matter of fact, I am a big dreamer. I believe that through research and developing new technologies I can make a large impact on people’s health. This is one of my main motivations to pursue a research career. Since I was twelve that I knew I wanted to be a scientist because I thought that there were too many unanswered questions about biology, and I wanted to answer them. Also, imagining new hypotheses and creating new discoveries has always fascinated me. Thus, becoming a research scientist was the most logical career path for me.

What skills do you use at your job?

Dr. Stolzer: All of them! As you might expect, I use a lot of logic and organization skills as well as math, statistics, programming, and science. But that's not all there is to being a scientist. A lot of what I do is disseminating the results of my work and learning about the results of colleagues. For this, I rely on communication skills, including written, oral, and visual communication. 

 Dr. Cruz: I am a molecular and systems biologist, and what this means is that I use my hands a lot. While in the lab, I work as if I was in a kitchen, performing experiments with my hands and then I use my experimental data to design models that explain or predict the results of these experiments. I think that the skills that I learned on my art classes on primary school and high school are very useful on my daily job. I am constantly performing experiments that require thinking and planning ahead, and while I am doing the experiments, I have to be very focused to avoid mistakes.  What I do is a lot like cooking, you need to be careful on what you do if you want to get good cakes (results). After I obtain these results, I work with computational biologist to design mathematical models that represent my results.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Dr. Stolzer: I love that I can work on finding answers to my questions about how nature works.  I also enjoy that I'm not doing the same exact thing every day.  Some days I get to think on the problems we're trying to solve; some days I'm designing figures to convey results; other days I'm writing about my work; still other days I get to program or analyze data.

Dr. Cruz: My favorite part of my work is the intellectual discussions and rewarding feeling after I have given a successful talk about my research. I love to explain my research using very concrete examples so everyone can understand me.  I like to present my research and maintain my audience engaged on my talks. I have had several times when I have presented my research, and the most exciting time was when I had to go to Germany to present my research for a scientific conference.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?

Dr. Stolzer: It would be one of three things: a teacher, a computer programmer, or a classical singer.

 Dr. Cruz: I would probably be an engineer of some sort, or an actor.

Why is science education important?

Dr. Cruz: Science education is necessary to show the benefits of science to everyone. I believe that if all members of society understand the function and contribution of science, everyone will be more willing to believe it, support it, and to invest on new research enterprises.      

Why is science outreach important? 

Dr. Stolzer: Science is in the news a lot and is used every day to make decisions about our lives. Science outreach is important because it helps the public better understand the scientific process and the significance of new discoveries. It's also incredibly important for showing young people what being a scientist is really like and that pursuing a career as a scientist is achievable.

Be sure to join us for Meet A Scientist this Saturday, July 13, from 1:30 – 3:30 in the Tropical Forest!


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