Amber Stratman

Dr. Amber Stratman, Assistant Professor, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

Tell us about your research

We study cardiovascular development, how blood vessels and the heart are built and stabilized, using zebrafish as a model organism. We are interested in how vascular cells interpret and respond to mechanosensitive forces to alter their behavior, signaling, and interactions with their microenvironment.

What were your challenges of being a NewPI and how you overcame them?

The biggest challenge for me as a New PI has been facing down imposter syndrome and the feelings of isolation. I have tried to overcome this by confronting these feelings head on, actively talking to others about it, and realizing that this is common. Knowing that many people experience these same feelings, yet still manage to find their own footing, has been extremely helpful in fighting off the self-doubt that can come with this job. 

I think another huge challenge of this job is the feeling that you are behind (even if you aren’t!). That successes will never happen, that you’re not going to finish that paper or get funding; that your research is moving too slowly or that you just can’t pull your ideas together to submit that grant. I don’t have all the answers on how to overcome this feeling, but for me, the best antidote has been leaning into celebrating the successes of others.  Often, we only see the end product of people’s stories (i.e. the successful grant, the published paper), but when you really begin to celebrate with others, you get to hear more about their journey to that success. It’s amazingly helpful to see successes after people have been through struggle—and even more fun to celebrate! 

How have you been coping with the pandemic in terms of mentoring and research?

I have to say that my trainees are doing much better job coping than I. They have been very resilient, working together as a team to keep the lab moving forward. From my side, trying to maintain productivity through the pandemic has been more focused on accepting the need to delegate tasks and ask others for help. I have been lucky to have senior mentors who are supportive, and have helped off set some of my teaching load, for instance when childcare issues have come up. This has allowed me to try to prioritize my limited time during difficult weeks towards mentoring and research activities in the lab.   

As a NewPI, what’s your superpower?

This is a tough one! I would like to think empathy is my superpower—understanding that my needs are not the only priority. I hope this superpower has helped me be more attuned as a mentor.

In this academic rollercoaster ride, words of motivation for others?

Don’t let imposter syndrome rule your decisions. Don’t second guess if you belong. There will be days where you question this or have doubts, but know it is ok to not have everything figured out.  No one does.  Trust yourself!

What is the one piece of advice you would give to your past self, on the day 1 of this job?

There’s no way to fully prepare for what it is going to be like to run a lab. It’s hard, and management is not something most people are trained in before starting this position. Accept that you are going to make mistakes. You’re going to have a lot of days with rejections, days you aren’t sure what you’re doing, and possibly even days you want to quit.

But there will also be successes, and days that remind you why you chose science in the first place. The important thing through this, is not being afraid to ask for help from your network and giving yourself grace! Spend time building the culture and community of people around you, both near and far. These are the people who will not only help you navigate the hard decisions and days, but who will give you genuine advice and celebrate your success. And do the same for them!

Bonus Question!

What’s the coolest factoid about vascular biology that I never knew I needed to hear/know?

If you lay out a single person’s blood vessels from end to end in a line, it would wrap the earth 2 to 2.5 times!

Watch out for “A Day in the Life of New PI” on Twitter by Dr. Stratman scheduled on Wednesday 6th October 2021 (Central Standard Time):

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