Laurel Dodgen joined the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center as a post-doc researcher in 2014. Working in a lab led by Wei Zheng, Laurel studies water, soil, and plant contamination by pharmaceutical compounds.
"My work protects environmental health, one of our most important resources," she says.
Q. What is the best part of your job?
A. The variety of tasks required is stimulating. I get to grow plants, collect field samples, write computer code, and more.
Q. What part of your job would be surprising to non-scientists?
A. Analyzing a water or soil sample for pharmaceuticals can take up to a week of work, and requires access to specialized (and expensive!) materials and instrumentation.
Q. What project are you most proud of?
A paper on pharmaceutical contamination of groundwater was recently published based on my work with collaborators in the Prairie Research Institute. This project delivered important knowledge on cave health and potential human exposure, and also challenged me to learn new statistical techniques to address the large amount of data.
Q. What advice would you give to other female scientists?
A. Focus on your top professional and personal goals, and don’t let other people’s expectations derail them. But otherwise be flexible; it can send you in new directions that are creative, exciting, or useful.
While I worked hard to become a scientist and a subject-matter expert, I owe a great deal to parents and teachers who supported my learning and development. They never made me feel that being female had any effect on my ability to be smart and successful.