Megan Fox, Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Maryland School of Medicine
Life Inside the Lab
What is your research topic? Broadly, I study how changes in neurotransmission can lead to changes in behavior. As a graduate student, I focused on the role of monoamine signaling in animal models of anxiety, depression, and addiction. More recently I’m focusing on what happens up- and down-stream of monoaminergic dysregulation on a molecular level. The main idea is that if we can understand the adaptations that happen in the brain, then we can design better therapeutics to treat human patients suffering from mental illness.
What was your worst day in science? This is a difficult question to answer, because there are a lot of dark times where things don’t work and you feel like it is your fault that the experiment is failing. One of the worst days for me was when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It’s challenging to stomach a neurodegenerative disorder when you are in Neuroscience, and I was afraid that being sick was going to interfere with my ability to stay in science. (Spoiler: it hasn’t!)
What was your best day of science? It is hard to narrow down my best day of science, because I try not to base my self-worth on experimental outcomes…but there are two days in particular that come to mind. The first was the day I was able to measure real-time dopamine fluctuations in a freely moving rat on both sides of the brain simultaneously (they synchronize!). The second was my first successful awake animal norepinephrine recording. Both paradigms were technically challenging, but high-risk high-reward!
Meg Fox is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology. She has a PhD in Biological Chemistry. Follow along with her science on Twitter on @NotThatMeganFox.
What did you study at university?My first major in college was Chemical Engineering. After two semesters, I decided I was more interested in studying Chemistry and Biology than trudging through differential equations and quantum mechanics.
What does your average day look like? Most days I am juggling multiple experiments. Sometimes its measuring animal behavior, administering drugs, or putting animals through an experimental manipulation. Almost every day I stare at my data and try to envision where things are going. About once a month I sit down and plan several weeks’ worth of experiments in a row which keeps me focused and on-task. There’s also the occasional twitter break to keep up on the latest research and to connect with my network of friends. And writing. Always writing.
What are some of the highlights of your career right now? I am still very early in my career, but right now, a notable highlight was my PhD defense. It felt like such a mic-drop moment, and it was in stark contrast with the days where I thought I would have to quit because of my illness. It also tickles me every time someone makes the joke “Megan Fox has published in XYZ journal.”
What is your favorite piece of technology or equipment you get to use in your job?I think that the most obvious answer is a computer. Computers can be combined with so many exciting technologies that enable us to look at what’s happening in vivo and in real time.
Life Outside of Lab
Where did you grow up? I spent much of my childhood in North Carolina, but consider myself to have grown up all over the east coast of the United States…I’ve lived from Maine to South Florida!
What profession did you think you would be when you were a kid? When I was a kid I wanted to be an archaeologist. I dug up animal bones behind my house and dreamed of becoming a female Indiana Jones.
What do you do to relax outside of lab? Reading, gaming, and the old-fashioned Netflix binge keep me centered outside of work.
Do you have any pets? I have two cats that are great companions but lousy copy editors.
Do you have any fun hobbies? I have been a musician for most of my life (piano, percussion), but I also enjoy backpacking and cooking.
Bonus slide at the end of Meg’s PhD defense. #HaikuYourPhD
What was your biggest motivation to obtain your PhD? It wasn’t so much about the result as much as it was the process. I had come to a stalemate as a research technician and I wanted to do more. I wanted to do good work that told a cohesive story. I also wanted to be in an environment that was challenging and would force me to learn and be outside my comfort zone.
What is your best advice for girls interested in science? If you are interested in science, then study science…even if you don’t want to be a scientist! Also, to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. There will be a lot of times where you look around and you are the only woman in the room, or the only woman speaking up. You deserve to be here, your voice deserves to be heard, and your perspective matters. There will be challenges everywhere you turn, but they should give you strength, not weaken you.
Are there any women in STEM who are inspiring you right now, and why? Every woman who is in STEM is an inspiration to me. Additionally, several years ago I helped run a day camp for Girls in Engineering Math and Science (GEMS). Those girls were so inquisitive and enthusiastic, and I hope they are continuing to learn about all things STEM. It is the upcoming generation in particular that inspires me, and reminds me why it is important that we strive to have more women in STEM fields.
Why do you think it is important to have more women in STEM? Plainly, why should boys have all the fun? Women are just as talented, smart, and creative, and their perspectives and insights are already helping STEM fields advance.
Meg as an undergrad, curiously wearing a labcoat, but no gloves.
Is there any one event or person who/that made you want to be a scientist? I went to a marine biology summer camp as a kid. I also had a phenomenal Chemistry teacher in high school (Molly Woodward, aka “Ms. Woody”).
Why were you drawn to science? Did you ever consider another career path? How close was your schooling related to your current job? I was drawn to science by a multitude of experiences. I loved to solve problems in school, and was the first to volunteer for fish and frog dissections. Aside from the typical “innate curiosity,” another big motivation was my younger sister’s Type I Diabetes diagnosis. I started learning how the human body works and how things can go wrong at age six, and thereafter I presented this knowledge to my first-grade class. I really liked that feeling of understanding and then explaining. The only career I ever considered outside science was that of music, but I am happy to be a “starving scientist” instead of a “starving artist.” I’ve had a very diverse and interdisciplinary education experience, and I believe all of these perspectives are critical for my job today.
What was your biggest challenge during your degree? Aside from my MS diagnosis, I had a really challenging period during my first year of college. I was the only girl in my physics class and faced some blatant sexism that made me question my choice to study science.
What is your favorite book? 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
What is your favorite desk snack? I try very hard not to snack at work, but everyone knows I’m a sucker for cookies. When in doubt, coffee (p.o., ad libitum).
What is your favorite cartoon? Rocko’s Modern Life
What would you listen to while writing? Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by the Smashing Pumpkins, and Desire by Bob Dylan were my go-to’s while compiling my dissertation.
What was your favorite subject in high school? Chemistry.
What is the strangest thing on your desk right now? Nothing too strange yet, but it’s a new desk. On my old desk it was a stress-ball in the shape of a foot with bregma and lambda skull markings drawn on the top.
Organization nut, or curated chaos? A little of both. Google Calendar is my religion, but I have stacks of seemingly nonsensical post-it notes everywhere.
What is another fun fact about you? I embroidered a fox on my lab coat.
What color socks are you wearing? Gray with orange foxes ( I’m a sucker for foxes)