Breaking the mould: UW-Madison geneticist connects art and science, participates in National Mall exhibition

For years, AhnaScoop didn’t feel like it fit the mold of the world.

Comes from a family of artists. Her father, Michael Skop, was a pupil of the famous Croatian artist Ivan Mitrovic, and her father brought students from all over the world to an art school that they had in their home. Her mother, Kathleen Prince Scoop, is a potter and retired art teacher.

“I’m here as a scientist,” said the geneticist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “You might assume that I inherited the recessive gene for science.”

In science, Scope entered a male-dominated field.

She suffers from dyslexia and a genetic disease that causes her chronic pain. She is open about the barriers she faces, so her students can see her as a real person.

While she was earning her Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Washington-Madison, she remembers one particularly bad degree. It was a “low point in my career”. She had enough of a failure that she wondered if she belonged in science after all.

Scope remembers the moment when John White, who invented the confocal laser scanning microscope, told Scope about the D he had once earned in mathematics. She realized that her test anxiety didn’t define who you could be a career for.

“It was the first time in my life that I heard a famous person turn to me and say, ‘You know, this class didn’t matter, and I was able to do such a wonderful thing,'” she said. “Just this statement… changed the course of my life forever.”

Last month, lookalike Scoop was one of 120 orange life-size figures printed in 3D at the National Mall in Washington to celebrate Women’s History Month. Smithsonian on Twitter called her “The largest collection of women’s statues ever assembled”.

Scoop joined WPR’s “The Morning Show” recently to discuss her background, teaching style, breaking the mold, and how she finds art in genetics.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Kate Archer Kent: How did it feel to be one of the 120 American scientists who had a statue?

Our purpose: Well, it is both scary and impressive at the same time to be 3D printed and outdoors as a sculpture. But I’m so proud, and it’s been great to meet so many other amazing women scientists who do incredibly great things. So, it was very nice to be a part of this program.

KAK: What was it like 3D printing?

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Like: I walked into a booth that looked like a larger blasting booth or something. And there’s a lot of lights around the edge, and they had almost like a “Project Runway” saloon right next to this one. It was kind of fun, something different than (what) I usually experience. Then we got our hair and makeup done, went into this booth and then a bunch of lights went out. I examined our bodies in three dimensions, and it was very scary because there is nothing hidden in this capture of ourselves.

KAK: Some students find science and mathematics intimidating. How do you deal with that?

Like: In the classes they took in high school, they realized they had to memorize everything. But really, that’s not what the science is about. We know things, but we solve problems, which is a lot of fun.

Science can be intimidating because people think about all this other stuff and how these tests of memorizing things might be. But I think the way science is taught now is changing because we do this project-based learning in the classroom. This is where the fun lies. And that’s what I love about science because I study how cells divide, which is important — when it goes wrong, that’s what happens in cancer. So, I want to know that and be able to solve the problems.

KAK: Can you explain your grading system?

Like: realized that (with) Lots of students, especially women and underrepresented students, often have anxiety in class. And it turns out to me that in the end, grades don’t matter. This is what you get from this course. So why not flip that idea: Instead of students working towards 100 points – and most people know how to do all the math about losing a point out of 100 – why not give them all the points on day one and everyone get an A The goal is to try to keep all those points . But I give them about 800 points because… you don’t really know how many points you lost.

There were a lot of students on the first day (who say), “I’ve never felt more confident on the first day of class than I did on your day.” And I think that’s why I use this unique strategy. I want them to feel welcome and have the potential to succeed, right? The goal is not to destroy people. It is to build people. I believe that the growth mindset theory that is based on it helps students understand that their perspective and what they bring to the table matters. It also balances the playing field because a lot of students have prejudices about where they are in the classroom.

KAK: How has dyslexia and being a visual learner affect how you relate to students?

Like: If you tell your students who you are on day one, it allows them to see you in a different light – that you are actually a real person out there. You are not this world outcast. Students (say), “I’ve never met a scientist who publicly admitted to having dyslexia.” I said, “My parents[Albert]told me that Einstein had dyslexia.” There were a lot of famous scientists. You realize dyslexia is a gift.

KAK: Let’s talk about your passion for cell division. She calls it “nature painting itself”. what do you see?

Like: When I first saw the mitosis process…come from an artist’s background, I was totally amazed (about) how beautiful this process is. And then when I started asking about it, a lot was known, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about the process. Coming from a family of artists and seeing something so beautiful you have the power to ask: How does that work? I really appreciate the beauty in science. If it wasn’t pretty, I probably wouldn’t study it.

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