Allison Murphy profile photo

What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?

10 years seems like a long time right now! In the short term, I'd like to continue pursuing the cool science I'm working on as productively as possible while in a pandemic. Generally, I'm hoping to finish up my Ph.D. in a reasonable amount of time and then pursue a post-doctoral position. My end goal is a position in academia.

What were the biggest professional obstacles you had to overcome? Did you ever have the impression that it would be easier/harder if you were male?

I don't think I've encountered any massive external obstacles yet, thankfully. I think my own insecurities and doubts are an obstacle I have to work to overcome daily.

For a more specific example, I grew up feeling like I was bad at math, which is something that has followed me through my career. This was in conflict with my desire to take as many advanced classes as possible, which often led to me taking challenging math classes while simultaneously telling myself "this is your worst class, you're never doing anything with math again." Objectively, my grades and scores would probably indicate that I'm not actually that bad at math. I've had to face this insecurity more directly as my research has occasionally taken a more computational direction.

I don't remember anyone directly tying my own STEM abilities to my gender, but I definitely encountered messaging about the lack of women in STEM. This was often accompanied by the idea that perhaps women were innately not as good as men at math. I think I probably internalized this a bit. As a younger student, I was already pressuring myself to do well academically, but there was an additional pressure with math that any setbacks I faced were proof that this was something I was, according to the stereotype, destined to be bad at. I think if I weren't facing that added pressure I would've been able to enjoy the process of learning the subject a bit more.

Do you serve on any committees/hold leadership positions within and outside the U of R? What is your impression of being a female leader in this environment?

I've been on a few committees with students and faculty during my time here, and they've almost always had really strong female representation. In these cases, I've had positive interactions, but I acknowledge that this isn't reflective of everyone's experience.

What strategies do you use to manage both a career and private life?

I have a few hobbies that I am reasonably committed to, which means I regularly schedule some non-science time in my life. It's also been helpful for me to prioritize things like sleeping and physical activity as essential to my health and, therefore, my work, rather than things that I get to once I finish everything else. I'm a better scientist and lab mate if I take care of myself physically and mentally!

What advice would you give to your younger self and/or to future scientists?

I guess some things I've recently told incoming students are:

  1. Focus on your own progress and achievements - don't constantly compare to what others are doing.
  2. Find good mentors and surround yourself with people that support and challenge you.
  3. Remember the things that excite you about being in science - it's what keeps you going when experiments fail or during late nights in lab.