Rachel Leicher is graduate fellow at The Rockefeller University where she specializes in Biophysics research.
Rachel grew up in the “very small town” of Harvard, Massachusetts. She describes the intimate town as having, “. . . 5,000 people with a lake and lots of trees and cows”. Rachel shares that, “you may have seen clips of Harvard in the most recent Little Women movie, including shots of [the] quaint general store”.
What’s your favorite thing about being a scientist? Did you always want to be a scientist?
“My favorite thing about being a scientist is that my job is hands-on. I work on an optical tweezers instrument, which looks a lot like a video game from the outside. As a child, I aspired to be either a dentist or math professor, so I guess I’m not too far off.”
Can you think of a specific time when you found science or pursuing science challenging?
“As the first graduate student in a new lab, it was challenging to build everything in my project from the ground up. However, it is rewarding to be the pioneer of a new platform and direction of the lab.”
If you could give one piece of advice to young scientists or students, what would it be?
“One piece of advice that was given to me by a committee member was “don’t get emotionally attached to your science.” While this advice is sometimes hard to follow, it’s important to remember that the outcomes of experiments are due to laws of nature, and you cannot will them no matter how hard you try, so don’t beat yourself up for it.”
Have you ever made something explode or otherwise wildly go wrong in lab?
“Back in undergrad we had an ethanol fire in lab which I beat down with a metal canister. Luckily nothing has happened since.”
If you hadn’t pursued science, what would you have done instead?
“If I hadn’t pursued science I would have gone into social justice work. I am very passionate about facilitating dialogue between people of different origins and working to gain rights for those who have long been ignored and discriminated against in this country. While this work is very challenging and important for those who pursue it, I hope that we can all engage in these conversations no matter what career we choose . . .”
I think there is a lot of growth needed especially in STEM for increasing minority representation at all levels.
Why did you decide to come to NYC?
“I came to New York City specifically to join the Tri-Institutional Program in Chemical Biology (TPCB) for which I am currently a graduate student.”
What is the funniest/strangest thing you have seen in NYC?
“I went to Wesleyan University for undergrad where our unofficial motto is “keep Wes weird,” so I’m not fazed by much. I think the strangest thing for me was when NYC had a huge snow storm (Jonas) and the streets shut down. It was an odd feeling to see first avenue completely empty minus a few dogs running through the snow.”
When you are done training, do you plan to stay in NYC?
“While NYC is exciting, I have realized over my time here that I really miss the trees. Therefore, I will search for my next venture in a location with more direct access to nature, potentially the Boston area where my family is from.”
Do you want to share anything else?
“One of my favorite experiences in graduate school has been traveling for conferences. At Rockefeller, we are privileged to travel throughout the world to present our research and meet scientists from all different backgrounds. So far, I have been to San Francisco and Peru. In Peru, I got to eat lots of ceviche and hang out with the alpacas. This year I will be presenting my work in the French Alps and San Diego.”