Meet Jessica Andriolo, a research associate in the mechanical engineering department at Montana Technological University and a member of the EPSCoR Track 1 research team. In this interview, Jessica shared information about her work, studies and career pathway with the Montana Girls STEM Collaborative, an outreach program of Montana NSF EPSCoR. Her interview is reprinted here in order to share career pathways with young people in Montana.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Helena Montana and attended Capital High School – a proud Bruin😊
What do you do for your job?
I have been a part of the Montana Tech Nanotechnology Laboratory (MTNL) since 2013. My background is in medical and health sciences, and I only took engineering courses once I was a Ph.D. student. Because of my background, I have primarily led biomedical related research within MTNL, working on nano- and micro-scale drug delivery systems, light activated drug delivery materials, physiological models, nanoscale drug storage, and nanoparticle interventions in bacterial and mammalian systems.
MTNL is a highly interdisciplinary group, and so in addition to these projects, I have had the opportunity to learn advanced characterization techniques and worked on solar cells, filtration systems, metals recovery materials, and development of nanoscale fabrication equipment.
On a daily basis, I am usually running between engineering, chemistry, characterization, and biology labs, guiding student research and performing my own, and writing proposals.
What did you like to do as a young person? At what age and how did you know you wanted to be a scientist?
I have always loved playing and watching sports. I played a lot of basketball in middle and high school. To this day, I play pick-up basketball with the other members of MTNL. My two brothers both played football in high school, and both played high school and college baseball. I always enjoyed these games, and as a young person in college, attending any sports game was my favorite thing to do.
I never knew I wanted to be a scientist. I thought scientists were lonely introverts, and I wanted more human connection. When I started college, I was on track to go to medical school. After 350+ hours of observation and volunteering at various medical facilities, I didn’t feel the same. To be honest, I just kept going to school because I hadn’t figured out what I really wanted to do yet.
Today, I love what I do. I get to be a research mentor and continue to be engaged with the student population in that way, while also having the freedom to be creative in my own research proposals and lead important projects going on within the group.
Who were some of the role models, mentors or other adults who influenced you as a young person?
In regard to personal qualities, of course I look up to my parents who are so loving and supportive. Career-wise, I didn’t know many doctors or scientists growing up. I did love my high school biology teacher, Mr. Pedersen, who took us into Yellowstone to study wolves, Glacier for 14-mile hikes, and engaged us in discussions on ethical issues we may face if we went into the medical field. His enthusiasm for science and medicine really made his class exciting every day. I remember us all being excited for his classes every week.
What advice would you give to a Montana kid who is interested in a career like yours?
First of all, don’t give up. As I said, I loved sports games and enjoying being away from home the first few years of college. High school was so easy for me, and I expected college coursework would be too. It took me a few years to get the swing of things and pull my grades up to where I wanted them. Also, like I said, I kept going to school because I hadn’t found what I wanted to do for a career yet.
Don’t quit, you’ll get there.
What advice would you give to young researchers?
- Contact faculty and get involved in research as an undergraduate. I didn’t know this was an opportunity when I was an undergraduate, but I wish I would have. Starting early provides such a good foundation for entering into graduate school or just a great addition for your resume if you leave and go straight into the workforce.
- Work in interdisciplinary groups. In this way, you will gain unique skills that set you apart when you enter the working world. Your resume will be chosen out of the stack of others that all look the same.
- Be efficient with your time. I mean this in a couple ways.
- First, in your graduate years, you can do the bare minimum as far as the required number of publications or conference presentations goes. I encourage you to take on more than this. This is your time to build your resume beyond your bachelor’s degree through research. Say yes when another research group needs your help, have publication outlines ready to go, and fill them out as you do your investigations. This will guide you as you go and result in more products – ultimately, a better and unique resume that will put you in the job you want.
- I also encourage you to dive in. A lot of times we spend a too much time in meetings planning/deciding/developing theory/searching the literature. The truth is that if the work you are doing is novel, no one has done exactly what you are doing before. Dive in and try several different paths to get to what you are looking for. This will enable you to get there faster, and you may discover something exciting along the way.
Learn more about nanotechnology at Montana Technological University!