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Chequita N. Brooks Interview
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chequita N. Brooks

Describe the project you’ll be conducting with your GWIS Fellowship funds. What do you hope to discover through this research, and how will the GWIS Fellowship help make this research happen?

My project is looking at the interaction between iron-oxidizing bacteria (FeOB) and benzene, likely coming from leaking underground oil storage tanks, in a freshwater creek. The creek runs through a residential area near my campus. The goals of this project are to understand how the FeOB are influenced by the oil in their environment and whether they are breaking down the oil leaking into the creek into less harmful substances, thus providing an essential ecosystem service. Through this research I hope to contribute to the growing body of research aimed at cleaning our planet of contaminants with a novel microbial resource and hopefully helping other communities that are affected by similar contamination issues. With over 5,000 currently leaking tanks in the United States, there are lots of affected communities! The GWIS Fellowship is helping to make this project possible through the generous financial support of the GWIS community, particularly for the collection of data for this new project! This project is very time and labor intensive, and it’s rewarding to know that others can see how important this work is to my community and those beyond.

What’s the coolest thing about your research and/or favorite part of your job?

One of the coolest parts of my research is that I’m getting to work with organisms that have such variable importance to our planet! Iron-oxidizing bacteria (FeOB) have been implicated as one of the most ancient forms of life on Earth and potentially contributing to the banded iron formations (BIF) in the geologic record. They’re also relevant in our contemporary landscape having importance for major biogeochemical cycles, microbially influenced corrosion (MIC), acid mine drainage, and bioremediation! My favorite part of my job as a graduate student is getting to mentor students. From undergraduates to elementary school students, I’ve spent many hours providing support to future women and minorities in STEM. When their eyes light up because they realize that they can be a scientist, too, it makes my day.



How did you end up doing what you’re doing? What was your path to becoming a scientist?

I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina where my exposure to scientists was limited. When I went to my undergraduate institution, Western Carolina University (WCU), I was lucky to find mentors in the sciences who encouraged me and helped me to have confidence in myself as a budding scientist. At WCU I worked on studying the microbial composition and diversity of commercially available kombucha products under the advisement of Dr. Sean O’Connell, a project which inspired me and helped me realize the amazing world of microbes! From there I decided to pursue my PhD and found another great mentor in Dr. Erin Field who introduced me to the world of iron microbiology.


What do you like to do when you aren’t working on your science?

When I’m not working on my science I like to write short stories and listen to podcasts (though I admit to listening to This Week in Microbiology (TWIM) and Nature). I spend some Friday nights listening to others’ nerdy science at Nerd Nite Greenville, where I’m the Nerd Nite Boss! I also really enjoy going for walks on the greenway, a nature trail in Greenville, NC, where I take pictures of insects, plants, and birds for my friends to ID.


Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for girls and young women who wish to pursue a career in science?

Find a support group and mentors that will rally around you as your community! When something big happens (like receiving a super awesome fellowship) you want the people around you to be excited and celebrate with you. Alternatively, when you’re having a hard day it helps to have someone who is able to sympathize withs your situation and offer advice for how they’ve dealt with a similar problem. Being a scientist can sometimes feel like a roller coaster ride with all the ups and downs, it helps to have people to ground you no matter the situation. Having that support group and mentoring have helped me to succeed in ways I would never have dreamed of. This current fellowship is the result of the awesome mentoring, support, and suggestions I received from Dr. Field and all my friends (many of whom are fellow women in STEM).

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