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Rachel Sherman and her dog Misty

“I thought I wanted to major in biology. When I took the computer science class my freshman year, a college course requirement, I was terrified. I wasn’t sure if I would do well in the class. But, I ended up loving it and ultimately chose a joint major which included computer science,” said Rachel Sherman, ‘20 (PhD). In 2015, Sherman obtained a Bachelor of Science in Mathematical and Computational Biology from Harvey Mudd College.

To learn more about Sherman, check out this brief Q&A.

When did you first discover the STEM field?

In middle school we had some fun science projects like building a Rube Goldberg machine. These are machines that perform a simple task, but do so through a series of complicated tasks that all interact to set the next task in motion. This piqued my interest in STEM field because I like to create things.

Why did you choose to attend Hopkins?

I really enjoyed the research that I worked on as a summer undergrad at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory [a private, nonprofit institution with research programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology, genomics, and bioinformatics]. While working there, my research mentor was Michael Schatz [Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Computer Science and Biology at Johns Hopkins University], who at the time was not working at Hopkins. He encouraged me to apply to the PhD program.

What advice do you have for women pursuing a STEM career?

Be mindful of the microaggressions that may occur in male dominated fields. The people marginalizing you will often give rationalizations for it. In my Hopkins classes my male counterparts often said things to me like, ‘I worked in industry so I have more coding experience than you’ and then would ask me to do the project write-up, rather than the coding. I don’t think my peers were being intentionally sexist, I just I think it’s ingrained in the culture and in the society. Sometimes, speaking up in the moment can help. I also think it’s important to have a colleague or friend in a similar field, who can relate to your experience and offer support.

What are some extra-curricular activities that you have been doing to maintain during the pandemic?

Prior to the pandemic, I enjoyed volunteering at my local animal shelter, the Maryland SPCA, where I both walked dogs and co-taught a volunteer class on handling behaviorally challenging dogs by employing force-free techniques, as well as playing volleyball and board games. Currently, I spend a lot of time with my dog, Misty, and cook and bake a ton. I did take on a DIY project early pandemic fixing up a broken hot tub I got for free from a neighbor, which was a pretty fun way to spend some time and learn a new skill, and now I have a working hot tub.

What are you up to now?

I’m currently interviewing for positions. I am interested in teaching, training, and outreach focused career opportunities.

In January 2019, Sherman taught a 3-week intersession course on dog DNA sequencing analyses, which she designed and taught as the sole instructor. In Fall 2019, she taught, “Introduction to Computer Science” at Mount St Mary’s University as an adjunct faculty member.