At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Dr. Karin Rodland oversees the work for the National Institutes of Health and manages 91 people in the Biological Separations & Mass Spectrometry Group.
A research scientist, manager, and pilot, Dr. Karin Rodland is known for seeing the world from different perspectives. At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, she leads scientific research into how normal cells communicate, and how these communication channels change in cancerous cells. She is identifying biomarkers or specific proteins that could give an early diagnosis of cancer and other chronic diseases. Karin was among the first to demonstrate that variations in extracellular calcium concentration could be sensed by certain cells through activation of a specific protein and calcium receptor, which triggered a chemical cascade. Before joining the national lab, Karin was an associate professor at Oregon Health Sciences University for 16 years. She earned her doctoral degree in biology from Syracuse University and graduated summa cum laude from Hood College. She is known for her candor and encouragement of high school, college, and graduate students. She guides them in building a solid foundation for their careers.
1) What inspires you to work in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)?
Remember when you were a child, and could ask all those really fundamental questions: Why is the sky blue? Where do clouds come from? Why does grass turn green in the spring? Being a scientist is like being a child for life. I get to ask fundamental questions every day, and I get to prod and probe and play in the lab until I get the answers. What makes a normal cell turn into a cancer cell? Why do some people get cancers from environmental exposures, like radiation, tobacco smoke, or chemicals, but others don't? How can I detect cancers very early, and treat them so the patient is completely cured? These are the questions I get to ask as a scientist.
2) What excites you about working at the Energy Department?
I truly believe that the research done by me and my Pacific Northwest National Laboratory team will make a positive difference in the life of almost everyone. Understanding how each individual person is different at the gene level and at the protein level, and how those differences affect susceptibility to disease and influence treatment, will eventually lead to a greatly improved quality of life, as we either prevent disease entirely, or detect it early and treat it effectively before much damage has been done.
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
We need to "de-mystify" STEM subjects, and stop pretending that it's hard to be a scientist or an engineer. It isn't hard -- it's fun! But like many other fun things, gymnastics or ballet or basketball, being really, really good at science and math requires practice. We need to find ways to teach STEM subjects that emphasize the fun, and the benefits of sticking with the program.
4) Do you have tips you would recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Learn the "Language of Math," as much as you can get access to. Math is the common element between all the physical sciences, and many of the business and social sciences. So by building fluency in math, you have the most options possible for picking your eventual career.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
I fly a small airplane, exploring the landscape by air, and providing free transportation to patients who live in remote areas of eastern Washington and Idaho, and who need to go to Seattle or Portland for medical treatment. Flying is the perfect blend of science, fun, and adventure, and by providing charity flights, I also get the satisfaction of helping others.