This week, Nibvana brings new meaning to #mathematicalmodel ;). She's a genetics PhD student at Duke University working on developing more sustainable food through genetic engineering...and she's also a part-time model! Read her interview to learn more about how she uses math in her research, and how she crushes the perception that beauty and brains are mutually exclusive!
MM: Hi Nibvana! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Can you explain the research you are currently doing for your PhD?
Nibvana: I am PhD student at Duke University working on developing more sustainable food through genetic engineering. People have been altering the genomes of plants and animals for many years using traditional breeding techniques. In recent decades, however, advances in the field of genetic engineering have allowed for precise control over the genetic changes introduced into an organism. Some benefits of genetic engineering in agriculture are increased crop yields, reduced costs for food or drug production, reduced need for pesticides, enhanced nutrient composition and food quality, resistance to pests and disease, greater food security, and medical benefits to the world's growing population.
MM: Interesting! So tell us how you use math in your research!
Nibvana: To determine whether my plants are indeed better than the existing ones, I constantly perform statistical analyses on the data to find significance. I run ANOVAs and t-tests at the moment, but I'm learning how to use unix and cloud-based computing so I can use other methods in the future. I love being able to prove that my methods indeed work, and back up the science with numbers as well!
MM: Yes! Proof is always in the numbers :). So how have you been able to manage both your studies AND modeling?
Nibvana: Many people raised eyebrows at me when I explained the other 'half' of me. Scientists couldn't believe I was interested in things like fashion and makeup, while photographers were amazed that I was in graduate school. It was quite apparent that I fit outside their box, and a bit unnerving. Models sometimes scoffed at me, but some were curious to learn how I balanced both and how I had become interested in such seemingly separate fields.
MM: There are definitely preconceived notions of what a 'typical' scientist or what a 'typical' model is in our society. What message would you like to give to young girls who are interested in science, but afraid to pursue it due to the stereotypes associated with it?
Nibvana: Young women gain valuable technical and problem-solving skills through STEM, as well as increased confidence and autonomy. Being in STEM doesn’t exclude a woman from more traditionally feminine activities either – I’m still free to model and express other aspects of my creative side as well! Being in science doesn’t determine all of your identity. I love both sides of myself and hope young women can see scientists as multi-dimensional women.
Follow Nibvana on Instagram @nibvana to see photos of her life as both a PhD student AND a model!