Meet a Local Scientist: April 2017

Dr. Jaclyn Novatt

Dr. Jaclyn Novatt

Where do you work and what is your position?

I am currently an Assistant Professor at Long Island University School of Pharmacy in Brooklyn.

Describe your work.

I am developing new ways to incorporate real research into science education. My students and I are working to understand and combat drug resistance in HIV.

Where did you go to school? Describe your path to your current position.

I was an undergrad at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. When I started at the university, I felt confused. I knew I liked science, but I didn't want to be a medical doctor and I didn't know what else one could do with a science degree. In my junior year I discovered research, and a whole new world was revealed to me. I was lucky enough to get a summer research fellowship at Brookhaven National Laboratory and worked in a lab at Brandeis during my senior year. I also completed the education program at Brandeis and became certified to teach high school Chemistry. I then went to graduate school at Rockefeller University in Manhattan. There I studied how things move in and out of the nucleus of cells. This led me to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) where I worked as a Post-doctoral fellow studying RNA biology. While at Rockefeller and CSHL, I worked as an adjunct professor teaching genetics, chemistry, biology, and biochemistry at several local colleges. I also led tours of the lab for the public, and helped start a seminar series called "Demystifying Science." I loved teaching, I loved research, I loved communicating science to the public, and I dreamed of a job that would enable me to do all of these. I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten this position at LIU. It allows me to combine the skills I learned at Brandeis, Rockefeller, and CSHL.

What is the best part of your job?

I love working with students. My favorite part is the look on a student's face when they realize that they are having a deep, meaningful conversation about a topic that was totally confusing to them just a day ago.

Describe a typical day at work for you.

One thing I love about my job is that there is no "typical day." Every day is different. Some days I spend in my office, planning classes, reading journal articles, working with students, or grading papers. Other days I spend in the lab. Biology is a lot of "hurry up and wait." I come into lab, work for 10-30 minutes to set something up, then I have to let it sit for an hour or more before I can do the next step. There's a lot of multitasking going on — I start an experiment, then I do something else during the downtime of that experiment. Some days it's just me and one or two students, other days we have volunteers, high school students, and other people in the lab, so it can get very crowded.

Why do you love science?

I love science for many reasons. First, I am an active person and I love working with my hands. Second, when I ask a question, I honestly find "we don't know yet" to be the most exciting answer possible. That means there's still more to be learned! Lastly, when bacteria do something I don't like, I can pour bleach on them. They get mad when you do that to people!

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in science?

I've spoken with many people who were debating whether to go to medical school (for an MD) or graduate school (for a PhD). For me, it depends on what you like, what you find comforting, and what you find frustrating. Let me explain: When doing research, you may not always know what the right answer is. If an experiment doesn't work, you can change some things and try again, but there's no guarantee it will work that time either. It's a process, with no clear "end." For some people that's exciting and fun. For others, it's frustrating and confusing. In medical school, there are right answers and wrong answers. If the information is in the book, you need to know it. For some people, it's comforting to know that there's a right answer in a book somewhere. For me, that felt very limiting. So, if you're interested in a career in science, think about what you find comforting, what you find exciting, what you find frustrating, and what you find limiting. If you find the lack of a clear path and no "right answer" scary and frustrating, then I'd advise to pursue medicine or a non-research career. If you find the lack of a clear path the start of an exciting adventure, then research just might be for you!

What is your favorite scientific fact?

I love that ice is less dense than water. Water is such a unique compound — it's the only substance in the world where the solid form is less dense than the liquid form.

Tell us a bit about yourself that is not related to science.

I married my high school sweetheart, and we have 5½ year-old twins. My husband worked in commercial radio for many years and now is the director of WHPC, the radio station at Nassau Community College. It's fun to have a partner who does something so different than what I do. I am very active with my synagogue, leading 'Tot Shabbat' and playing cello for our musical events. I am also the current president of the Nassau County Parents of Multiples Club, a non-for-profit support organization for families with twins, triplets, and higher order multiples.

What is your favorite thing about Long Island?

I love that it's near my family. My parents still live in the house I grew up in, which is 10 minutes from where I live now, and my brother and his family are 10 minutes in the other direction.