Quote: Consider everything. The biggest mistake you can make as a leader is to say ‘no’ before examining the proposition.

Mary Hammel

Scientist, Mentor, and Mom

Mary Hammel is a Laboratory Supervisor, POC at UCHealth in Colorado Springs, CO. She is also a mom, mentor, skier, snowboarder and avid runner – juggling her profession and her passions like a pro.

Q: Tell us about how you came to be a scientist and what you hope to accomplish in your work?

A: Becoming a scientist was not a linear journey. I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and loved to ski. After high school, I ran away to Breckenridge and worked at the Base of Peak 8 answering phones and skiing on my lunch break. After three years, I realized that I had no career-applicable skills, and unless I wanted to continue living with five roommates and working three jobs, I needed to figure things out!

I moved back home to attend the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs as a science major, thinking I wanted to go to medical school. During my third year, a fellow student told me about the Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) program. Knowing little about it, I was intimidated, but her homework looked interesting and I was curious. It took some time, but eventually, I knew this was what I was looking for.

Now, I supervise the bedside testing that nurses do and directly collaborate with nursing leadership to maintain an effective and quality-driven bedside lab testing program. Although I’m trained as a generalist (hematology, chemistry, immunochemistry, microbiology, etc.), I specialize in microbiology and then transitioned into my current role. I’m also a mom of two great kids and I love to spend ‘sanity’ time outdoors, snowboarding and running. In fact, I’m currently training for Surf City Marathon in February and Pikes Peak Marathon in August!

I hope I’m living my life in a way that shows my daughter (and her peers) that as a woman, you don't have to wear one hat. You can have a family, enjoy an intensely fascinating career, and still find time to pursue a creative outlet.

You don't have to wear one hat. You can have a family, enjoy an intensely fascinating career, and still find time to pursue a creative outlet.

Q: Sounds like you ‘do it all’ – what would you say to women out there who are striving to find balance?

A: I'm not sure a real work/life balance exists. If you think of it as less of a static thing to achieve and more of a dance to enjoy, you might find yourself more satisfied and fulfilled. In the end, it doesn't matter whether you find balance or not – just keep a clear vision, a good workout schedule, a good journal/scheduling planner, and a sense of humor life gets messy!

Q: Why do you think women are underrepresented in the science fields, and what can we do to support girls in STEM education?

A: Overall, there are more women in laboratory science, but most of them are not well represented in leadership or pathology. In my opinion, this imbalance stems from two sources: a lack of information and a lack of confidence.

If I polled all my female colleagues about how they heard about their career, 99% of them will tell you it was by accident or word-of-mouth. Most (myself included) started off thinking they were going to be doctors or nurses because they didn't know how many other options there are in the science and medical field. We have to do a better job at showing students ALL of the choices and guiding them toward their goals.

High school educators and counselors can play an important role in helping women feed into STEM careers by inviting STEM career representatives to career fairs. Universities can then educate female students about STEM career paths during their freshmen year. I mentor high school students in their biomedical programs and try to guide them in how to clearly execute their ideas, both on paper and in real life.

When I’ve showcased at high school career fairs, girls ask how they can do what I do. I tell them to get a degree in the sciences. Immediately, they say ‘I can't do science’ or ‘I’m bad at math.’ It kills me to see how quickly girls set themselves up for failure – but it’s a symptom of a bigger issue. These young women are falling off the confidence track early in their education, and something must be done.

Q: Bonus question! Can you share any cool at-home science experiments anyone can do?

A: Of course! Volcano experiments are always a crowd pleaser for the little ones. But when they are a little older, growing your own rock candy is really fun because they can watch the crystals form daily.