By Samina Azad
Dr. Erin S. Baker is a Senior Research Scientist in the Biological Sciences Division at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Earth & Biological Sciences Directorate. Her specialty is studying biological systems by using ion mobility spectrometry in conjunction with mass spectrometry, an investigative specialty known as IMS-MS. Erin received her B.S. from Montana State University, Bozeman and her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Erin started out in pre-med and considered biology, but ultimately decided to pursue chemistry because “you can prove things faster.”
Growing up on a farm, Erin learned early on the value of hard work from her parents, who were her biggest role models. From them, she learned that hard work and diligence pays off. Erin gained mechanical aptitude from fixing farm equipment, which proved useful when she started to work in the lab as a scientist. She is also grateful to her PIs for sharing their valuable experience and scientific knowledge with her.
One of the biggest lessons that Erin learned is you have to keep trying to make experiments work. Perhaps only 5% of your experiments will work, but you cannot give up. The same holds true for funding. Erin experienced that no matter how brilliant your proposal, the proposal review board is the most critical factor for obtaining funding. The key is to keep trying - the more proposals you submit, the better the chance of success.
Another key lesson is to learn from others and the mistakes they have made. Talk to as many people as possible – network and collaborate with people from diverse fields to strengthen your proposals and build a strong team. Erin has found that one of the best ways to find collaborators it to attend conferences where you can talk to the presenters afterwards about working together.
Her final lesson is to pursue what you are passionate about. It will drive you through your workdays.
Balancing work and life is not easy, since obtaining funding requires long hours in the lab and continuously working overtime. You always get burnt out around deadlines. Erin keeps herself motivated and energized by planning to work on her favorite projects after submitting the proposals. She likes camping and rafting with her husband in remote locations so phones/computers are unplugged and out of reach. Erin has two dogs that are always happy to see her when she gets back home. They help take away work stress.