Anya Garbuzov

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1. In layman’s terms, explain what you do.

I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis this past year, where I was a chemistry major with a math minor. Since then I have worked as an EMT, and I am currently preparing to move to Australia to attend medical school.

2. Why did you choose to go into chemistry, maths and now medicine?

Growing up, my dad always used to do a lot of math problems with me. We would always do challenging problems, but they usually had elegant solutions. Even though I didn’t necessarily like it at the time, it really cultivated an appreciation of the subject for me. 

I have always loved STEM and problem-solving.  When I first got to college, I bopped around a lot of different majors trying to find the best match. I spent a week in the art school, I tried psychology, I thought about doing math. Eventually, I found chemistry had the most engaging classes and the best problem sets, so that is the path I took.

My interest in medicine began in high school when I started volunteering at a children’s hospital, which I continued through college. I enjoy the hospital setting, and I love that doctors can provide so much care and help for people. Medicine combines my interest in helping people and engaging in my community with my passion for STEM and problem-solving.

3. What did you enjoy most about studying chemistry?

My favorite thing about studying chemistry was how difficult classes brought people together rather than dividing them. I remember a physical chemistry class that I loved but was so difficult.  An A was a 76%! The class was so collaborative and we all worked so hard to help each other.  Also, the fact that I enjoy problem-solving really came into play.  Most of my chemistry classes had problem sets, and it’s just such an empowering feeling to really understand how different topics come together.  Along the way, I learned so much about the world around me.  Chemistry is really everywhere, and I have a very in-depth understanding of the principles that rule all around us.  

4. What is the most challenging aspect of your job/studying chemistry?

The most challenging thing was just how much material we were learning. Chemistry can be a difficult subject, and studying it means learning about many facets of chemistry in a lot of detail. I loved learning everything, but sometimes it was just a lot of work.  At the end of the day though, the challenge is exactly why I love it.  

5. What roadblocks have you faced on your path to where you are today?

I think that I'm very hard on myself. A lot of the challenges I faced have been almost self-inflicted. I would compare myself to other people.  In a way, it's pushed me to where I am, but it can also be a roadblock as I am sometimes my own worst critic.

6. What has been your greatest achievement in STEM so far?

I’m still pretty young and I have not achieved that much yet! I think getting my chemistry degree has been my biggest one so far because I worked so hard for it.  Stay tuned for more though!

7. What do you believe is the most important thing for girls to know before pursuing STEM?

It is hard for everyone, not just you. I think that STEM is a great equalizer in that sense. Coming into a course, some people might have a bit more experience with STEM than others, but the playing field is leveled quickly, especially in hard classes. Don't beat yourself up about not completely understanding a topic.  Chances are, a lot of your classmates feel the same way. Find a couple of people you vibe with, and you’ll be able to encourage each other on.

8. What problem would you like to see solved by STEM in the next 10 years?

I would love to see a resolution to antibiotic resistance. With the dawn of superbugs like MRSA, I really hope the medical community can find a way to prevent more of these bacteria from becoming drug-resistant and harming people while still providing the necessary care for patients.

9. What does being a scientist mean to you?

Being a scientist means wanting to understand why things are the way they are and devoting time and energy to find answers.

10. What motivates you?

I want to be able to help those around me. I know that there are a lot of big problems in the world, and there isn't much I can do for most of them. All I can really do is help make my small sphere of control a little better, and being a good doctor will give me a lot of opportunities to do some good.

11. How do you define success?

I think success is finding the path that is right for you and following it. Hopefully making the world a slightly better place along the way. 

12. What one discovery in science do you most admire and why?

The discovery of penicillin and subsequent antibiotic development.  Antibiotics can help with so many different illnesses, and they are so easy for patients to take.  That discovery really shaped modern medicine and has saved so many lives.

13. What one book do you recommend everyone read, and why?

In my freshman year of high school, we read Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. That was a book that changed my perspective. It really had me questioning social constructs and the way we view inequality in the world.  

I also have to recommend Malcolm Gladwell as an author.  He has such an interesting perspective, and his books are so easy to read.  Many of my fun facts and anecdotes are borrowed from him.  

14. What is the best piece of advice you have received?

David Foster Wallace’s Commencement Speech for Kenyon College, “This Is Water.” I watched it on YouTube a while back, and it has stuck with me since then.  I do not want to tell a synopsis and miss something important from the speech, but my main takeaway is the importance of being conscientious and empathetic.

15. In a high school yearbook, which superlative would you be? 

In high school, I was actually voted most sarcastic. Today though, I think I would be most adventurous! I am about to move to Australia in a few weeks, so that is a word that keeps popping up in my head! 

16. If you could invent anything or make any discovery, what would it be and why?

I’d love to make a contribution to our healthcare system.  I feel like adequate healthcare is so important and so fundamental, and I really want to be a part of a system that fairly serves everyone. 

17. If you could go back in time what advice would you give your high school self?

High school can be such a stressful time.  It almost feels like your whole future has to be decided and planned.  But don’t pay too much attention to what other people are doing.  Trust your gut and things will work out. Things may follow a different path to what you expect, but in the end, you’ll be glad things happened the way they did.

18. What would you say are the top three skills or traits needed to be a success in your field?

  • Intelligence
  • Determination
  • The ability to work hard

If you have all three, you are set, but if you are a normal human and can use a bit of help here, being a good team player and working well in a study group can really make a difference.

19. How would you say your gender has impacted your experience in STEM?

Right now, I am about to enter medical school. I’ve noticed that whenever it comes up, people start giving me a lot of advice. It is usually along the lines of “find a field where the lifestyle will allow you to take care of a family too.”  It can be discouraging as I have no interest in starting a family right now, and want to pick a field that I love and find meaningful. I don’t think my male counterparts are being told to put some future family ahead of their career. It’s frustrating to have to defend myself or just sit there and nod.  

20. What are you involved with outside of STEM?

In college, I was president of the Outing Club. I helped organized camping, hiking, rock climbing, and backpacking trips. I only got involved in these activities at college, but they are still an important part of my life.  

Shreya PatelComment