cataLIST Spotlight: Madeline Cooke

Madeline Cooke is a fourth year graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, where she works in Dr. Andrew Ault’s lab studying the chemical reactions that occur within atmospheric aerosol particles.

What is the best part of grad school life? What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really enjoy the excitement of brainstorming research questions and designing experiments to test hypotheses. It is always so satisfying when something works out! 

Describe your path in academia so far. How did you find your field? Did you always know you wanted to go into science? What do you want to do next?

I majored in chemistry as an undergrad and became interested in research. I joined a research lab that investigated bioactive peptides from natural products, specifically from the leaves of plants. I knew that I enjoyed doing research, but I really wanted to connect my love for scientific research and my passion for the environment. This led me to pursue my Ph.D. at U-M in a lab that focuses on characterizing the chemistry of aerosol particles that have an impact on climate.

How do you keep up a good work-life balance (or try to)?

It helps me to try to learn new skills or focus on aspects of myself that have nothing to do with my research! For example, I am currently studying French with one of my labmates. When research is frustrating and there is a problem in the lab that I just can’t figure out, it is very satisfying to reconnect with my love of learning and study something that has nothing to do with my Ph.D. Language learning is also something that is much more linear than research! I know that if I practice regularly then I will absolutely succeed, while research is a little more unpredictable (not every experiment works out and that’s okay!). 

What advice do you wish someone had given you earlier?

A Ph.D. is a marathon, not a sprint! It is very important to stay focused, but this doesn’t mean you have to be focused every minute of every day. If you start a race with a sprint it will be harder to finish! It is important to take breaks and pace yourself. 

Who are your mentors or inspiration? Do you have any strong female role models/mentors in your life?

My undergraduate mentor, Prof. Leslie Hicks at UNC Chapel Hill, has been a huge inspiration to me since I began working with her during my second year of undergrad. She not only does great science, but also remains committed to mentoring women at all stages of their careers! 

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