Amy Kullas, PhD
Director of Ethics
American Society for Microbiology
AWIS Professional Member since 2013
“The support at both the chapter and national level has helped me to identify what it means to be a woman and leader in science.”
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned and how has it proven invaluable?
“One and one makes eleven” where progress increases logarithmically when individuals work together. This concept has been key to accomplishing a great many tasks both professionally and personally. When people work together, they can accomplish so much more collectively than any one person could individually.
What do you aspire to accomplish in your career and why?
In the era of ‘fake news’, I work to maintain the integrity of the scientific record within ASM’s 13 journals. I investigate allegations and manage the communications and decision process for allegations of potential ethical misconduct. Additionally, I design and implement policies and educational modules to help authors conform to best practices in publishing ethics. I hope to educate scientists on issues of misconduct. As scientists it is important for us to ensure that accurate, reliable information is disseminated into society so that there continues to be trust and transparency of science, because when this begins to falter then everyone can suffer.
How has AWIS helped you professionally and/or personally?
Since becoming an active AWIS member, I have grown so much professionally. The support at both the chapter and national level has helped me to identify what it means to be a woman and leader in science. I was selected as an Association of Women in Science (AWIS) representative to the “Research Matters Communications Workshop” and “Day at the Hill” events. More recently, I attended the “Diversity and Inclusion Fuels Innovation in STEM” Capitol Hill Day. I met with legislators to discuss the importance of federal funding for scientific discovery. I was the treasurer at the chapter level and am now the VP of communication, which allows me to share important initiatives and information to various stakeholders.
What do you consider your most important career achievements, milestone or accomplishment and why?
At the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I applied to and was awarded the highly competitive Postdoctoral Research and Training (PRAT) intramural fellowship from the National Institute of General Medicinal Sciences. This allowed me to gain experience in the grant application process and understand issues related to science funding. My postdoctoral fellowship is in the Laboratory of Clinical Infectious Diseases. This has given me the opportunity to see how my research directly impact the patients at the Clinical Center and have a new appreciation for the challenges faced by clinicians at this interface. Though I have an extensive background in conducting research, one of my most fulfilling roles is discussing scientific discoveries, methods, and its relevance to human health with people of varying ages and backgrounds.
How do you see your work changing or impacting or advancing STEM?
It is the responsibility of scientists to pass their enthusiasm and passion for their field to children and to continue to keep them excited and interested. Overtime, this will increase the science literacy. I have assisted the local YMCA with their “Slime Science” program for preschool children. One of the children’s favorite sessions is learning about physical properties of matter using “Oobleck” (a substance that exhibits solid and liquid states depending on the forces exerted on it). This past summer, I was a volunteer with the “Building with Biology” program at the National Museum of Natural History. This allowed me to engage a broad audience with interactive biological topics focused on synthetic biology. Though this is a topic outside my area of expertise, I was still able to communicate with the general public. These experiences sparked my enthusiasm for science education and outreach. As scientists engage the community, this helps to prevent misinformation; which supersedes scientific-based evidence resulting in strong public opinion and mistrust. Establishing relationships with parents, community members, and the media is essential to rebuilding trust in science.
Describe as an amazing opportunity that has helped advance your STEM career and how so?
I had my first ‘research’ experience as a senior in high school when I took a class called “Bacteriology and Basic Genetics.”. In this class, we got introduced to bacteria. I remember performing my first Gram stain, looking through the microscope and seeing the mixture of the pink and purple cocci bacteria. At that moment, I realized what I wanted to study in college. I applied to the University of Minnesota and majored in microbiology.
How does your work help advance women in STEM achieve their full potential?
My current position allows me to be a mentor and to continue to seek out mentorsship. This is a continuous process. I now sit on career panels and offer advice & insight about my career path, but also still value mentorship from others.
What fascinates you about your work, whether in a lab, on the water, in the field, in an office?
Though I am no longer at the bench anymore, I know that my job makes a difference to the scientific community by maintaining the integrity of the scientific record. I appreciate that I am able to remain connected to the science (through publishing, attending meetings, and the scientists themselves).
What are some of the challenges you face in your STEM career and how did you address them?
The gap between the scientific community and the public on important science policy issues has never been larger and only continues to grow . The disparity between the two groups is alarming and needs to mend before science progress is ultimately affected. As scientists, we need to improve science literacy.
Amy Kullas, PhD, is the Director of Ethics for the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). She came to ASM after conducting a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health where she was awarded a Postdoctoral Research Associate (PRAT) fellowship from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Kullas obtained a Doctorate in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology from Stony Brook University in New York. She spent her research career focused on understanding the dichotomy of the host-pathogen interaction. Growing up in a Wisconsin farming community, she never fathomed she would live in the nation’s capital. Some of her other interests include science policy, global health, and STEM education.