Eric N. Chiles is a Research Teaching Specialist at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ) at Rutgers University where he specializes in Metabolomics research.
What’s your favorite thing about being a scientist? Did you always want to be a scientist?
“My favorite this about being a scientist is how science is a vehicle for creativity and exploration. If you’re someone who enjoys asking big questions and breaking those big questions down to the minutia, science is for you. Science is simultaneously deliberately methodical, and also rewarding of abstract and creative thinking. To say that I always knew I wanted to be a scientist would be a dishonest statement. That’s my truth. There are a host of other areas for which I have a greater natural proclivity, but science always kept me on my toes. Having to work harder at it is part of the reason I love it so much! . . . ”
There is always room for growth and expansion in science…and not just of your knowledge base, but also of the self!
Can you think of a specific time when you found science or pursuing science challenging?
“Every single day is a challenge, and for a plethora of reasons. In addition to the normal stressors of experiments, giving presentations, general lab duties, and writing papers, there are some very real institutional pressures that make a life in science challenging. It’s no secret that there aren’t a lot of black people in academia pursuing STEM disciplines, and that’s in large part due to siloing. It can be very challenging forging a path with few or no immediate models of success. When you pile Imposter Syndrome on top of that, oh boy! ‘Wooo chillay!'”
If you could give one piece of advice to young scientists or students, what would it be?
“Don’t let Imposter Syndrome or feelings of inadequacy hinder you. Just showing up and doing the work is half the battle. STEM belongs to everyone and you’re here because you deserve to be, so take up some space.”
Have you ever made something explode or otherwise wildly go wrong in lab?
“Botching experiments is a right of passage! I’ve done everything from accidentally sucking air into the HPLC lines to totally messing up entire batches of samples using protocols I helped develop. Also, in 7th grade I pulled the safety shower. It’s the only time I’ve purposely been mischievous in lab. Fortunately, I’ve matured a bit!”
If you hadn’t pursued science, what would you have done instead?
“I’d probably be in show business. In a parallel universe I’m well on my way to being an EGOT winner!”
What is the funniest/strangest thing you have seen in NYC
“There was that time I saw Phantom on Broadway and afterwards pretended I was in the show and signed playbills and posed for pictures with a bunch of people from the Midwest. From time to time I still wonder if they knew I was lying…there were no black people in the cast at the time. Did they just totally miss that detail?”
When you are done training, do you plan to stay in NYC?
“I believe in chasing opportunity, that being said there is quite a bevy of STEM opportunities in the tri-state area!”
If you were a lab animal/model organism, which would you be and why?
“E. coli! It’s got my initials and everybody uses it! Isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day, to be used.”