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I am Caitlyn Cardetti, and This is How I Work

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Caitlyn Cardetti. Caitlyn is a 3rd year PhD candidate who outside of her research loves promoting science communication, science policy and women in STEM. She is the administration for the rotational curator (#rocur) account on Twitter @Neurotweeps, President of Stony Brook University’s Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWiSE) organization as well as the TA for Introduction to STEM Policy. You can often find her on Twitter @CaitlynCardetti or running to clear her head.

Current Job: Ph.D Candidate
Current Location: Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York
Current mobile device: 1st Gen Google Pixel
Current computer: At lab I have a Dell Desktop with Windows 7, Acer Laptop Windows 10 with a full keyboard – that’s a must for me, I also have a Windows Surface that my program provided that I hardly use.

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
Mitochondria are double-membrane organelles found in humans, plants, animals and essentially all eukaryotic organisms. Mitochondria produce energy for the cell, which is why they are often known as the powerhouses of the cell. Mitochondria have their own DNA which is transcribed into RNA. Processing of RNA within the mitochondria is different from the processing of RNA in the rest of the cell and occurs in sub-structures called mitochondrial RNA granules. Incorrect processing and maturation of mitochondrial RNAs (mtRNA) are the cause of most human mitochondrial disease. And is also implicated in aging and many common diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cancer. I am studying the composition of these mitochondrial RNA granules and how they regulate the various RNA processing that goes on within them.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
A planner, Google Calendar, a timer, and my extra sloppy notebook.
Google Drive
Microsoft Office
Twitter – outlet and great place to go to for advice
Google – I don’t know if I should admit how often I google questions I have

What does your workspace setup look like?
As a biologist, I do work in a lot of different spaces. I have a fixed computer workspace in my lab that is attached to my lab bench where I do most of my work and is often piled with papers (as seen in the photo). But I also often go to another building on campus to use this fancy high resolution microscope called the Structured Illumination Microscope (SIM) – it lets me not only look at mitochondria but zoom in and see inside of them.

This microscope has such good resolution, I am zoomed in on one single cell with the nucleus out of frame. The red outlines the mitochondria by staining for TOM20, a transporter embedded in the outer membrane (remember mitochondria have two membranes -inner and outer). The green stains DNA and the blue RNA.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Accepting that being productive is a continuous learning exercise – situations change and what worked for you once might not apply anymore. Be open, be flexible, learn to adapt. Be honest with yourself about what works and doesn’t work. Understand there are ebbs and flows and that’s okay. And as my PI reminds me done is better than perfect. Also get some sleep and exercise.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Google Calendar, a physical planner and a notebook with a lot of handwritten lists.

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
Unless you count all the equipment I use for experiments, not really.

Which skills make you stand out as an academic?
I’m not really sure but I’d like to think I am helpful. I like to help others make connections with other people or resources. If I read about something I think might be useful to someone I send it their way or I’ll set people up to chat if I think they can help each other out.

What do you listen to when you work?

I don’t usually listen to anything while I work unless you count the constant humming of all the refrigerators/instruments around me.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I just finished Gulp by Mary Roach. I love all of her books as she does an amazing job weaving a story out of all these cool facts about different topics. As for finding time, I moved in with my partner this summer and surprisingly it has given me more time to read books for pleasure. Since I have a longer commute now (40 minutes instead of 5), I try not to come in as frequently on weekends so I typically read in the morning waiting for my partner to wake up so we can have brunch together (he sleeps in so late *eye roll). The public library is 2 blocks down the street so I essentially have an endless supply of books. And on my commute I listen to audiobooks through the app, Libby – it’s free because it checks out audiobooks through my library. I’d really recommend this app.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?
Oh, I’m not a fan of this dichotomy. I’m an introvert in the sense that I love alone time to recharge but I’m not shy. I can be chatty. I definitely do think it influences my work habits because I really enjoy working alone and I’m lucky my lab space is very quiet. Otherwise, I don’t know how I would get any work done. Some of my peers are in crowded labs and I feel like I’d get caught up and distracted in too much chit chat.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Naturally I’m more of a morning person and am happy to jump into bed by 10pm but my SO is a night owl so I’ve adjusted my schedule so we can eat a late dinner together and hang out after I get home from lab. My new typical bedtime is midnight/1am and I get up at 8am. I have been working on trying to fall asleep in bed and not the couch, so once I get sleepy I relocate.

What’s your work routine like?
It really varies depending on the experiments I’m doing. I try to do all my “paperwork” on Mondays aka handle the bulk of my emails and schedule somewhat of a plan for the week.
I come in at 10am and leave anywhere between 6pm-10pm. My partner has some shifts in the evening so I try and schedule my late nights then.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
“It never hurts to ask for what you want.” But really it’s true, worst case you’re told no which is the same answer you live with if you never ask.

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