Natalia Ketaren, Ph.D., is a Research Associate at The Rockefeller University where she studies Structural Biology.
Natalia grew up in Melbourne, Australia and moved to New York City to pursue her post-doctoral fellowship at Rockefeller. Similarly to the diversity and multi-culturally of New York, Melbourne is a “melting pot of people from different cultures and walks of life”. Although it’s the second largest city in Australia, Natalia describes it as, “less hectic, less crowded and more laid back than NYC”.
What’s your favorite thing about being a scientist? Did you always want to be a scientist?
“I love having my mind challenged and the dynamic environment of the lab. I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I was younger, but I’ve always been interested in how nature around us is created and works with such precise perfection – it’s truly amazing how Earth was made for us!”
If you could give one piece of advice to young scientists or students, what would it be?
“When you’re learning and trying to make sense of something, keep an open mind and don’t compromise kindness for a result.”
Can you think of a specific time when you found science or pursuing science challenging?
“In grad school, I was characterizing the kinetic properties of an enzyme, using an assay developed by our collaborators. The assay takes SUPER long to get enough data in replicates to then analyze. I kept getting this one result, that didn’t make an sense, as it went against all the current literature. I thought I had done something wrong, so I repeated the experiment several times. I finally asked a lab mate, and they said, maybe your enzyme is different – and it was. Sometimes you try to do something all by yourself, and you feel shy to ask for help and you start questioning the wrong things, such as your abilities. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! . . .”
Science is collaborative, we work on novel problems and we’re surrounded by people that can help us along the way.
Have you ever made something explode or otherwise wildly go wrong in lab?
“In my chemistry lab class in undergrad, we were making esters and our reaction exploded and landed on the ceiling and our lab coats. My lab coat ended up smelling like tutti-frutti and when I was air drying it on the campus lawn, bees flocked to it and me.”
If you hadn’t pursued science, what would you have done instead?
“Looking at my life now, if I wasn’t a scientist, I would probably be a farmer – grow produce, have chickens and a cow – live off the land. There’s a lot of learning and challenges there :)”
What is the funniest/strangest thing you have seen in NYC
“People’s indifference to some of the strangest behaviors on the subway is supper interesting and funny. Weird things happen, and locals don’t blink an eye.”
When you are done training, do you plan to stay in NYC?
“I’d like to go back home after NYC, or maybe see what Europe is up to, or maybe even Asia!”
If the building was burning, what single item would you grab as you ran out the door and why?
“My purse – has my house keys and phone.”