Stephanie Schneider

Sector: Research

Field: Science

Occupation: Student

Meet AGU Virtual Poster Showcase Winner Stephanie Schneider, doctorate student at the University of Toronto (listen to full audio interview).

Can you start by saying your name, where you attend school and work, and what you are studying or researching?

For sure, so my name is Stephanie Schneider I’m a second year PhD student at the University of Toronto in the department of chemistry. I study environmental chemistry with Dr. John Abbatt. Currently my research is focusing on Ocean atmosphere interaction. I look at the sea surface micro layer which is just a concentration of organic species at the surface of the ocean and how that layer can get oxidized to end up in the atmosphere and form particles.

Okay, Awesome! Did you always know you wanted to go into science or how did you come about first wanting to get involved in science?

So I’ve always been really interested in science. Just as a kid I always used to love doing science experiments and that was always my favorite class. For me the memory that stands out the most was in the sixth grade, when I was about 12, I was chosen to attend something called the Choices Conference at the University of Alberta. This was a program that brought 600 grade 6 girls to the University for a day of science. And I still remember all the experiments that we did and that was the first time I knew that I really liked science and I wanted to do it.

That’s great! Can you describe the most exciting part of the research that you are doing right now?

For me it’s just the opportunity to learn, so what I like about my day to day is that I am still taking classes, I am still kind of figuring out what the literature is saying about my research, and designing my research project, and doing experiments, so really just getting to learn all of these new things is what is exciting for me.

Did you develop an interest in the research you are in right now in undergrad? How did you know you wanted to get into the atmospheric/oceanic sciences?

Good question! I was always interested in environmental science and at my undergrad university, at the University of Alberta, we didn’t have environmental chemistry and I had chosen chemistry because it was just my favorite first year class, honestly, I really liked chem lab. Around third year in undergrad I had a little bit of a crisis you could say where I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to study chemistry anymore because I knew I was really interested in the environment. That was actually when my undergraduate supervisor got hired. Dr. Sarah Styler started in August between my second and third year and two days after she started, I had already messaged her saying I was interested in doing research with her. I worked with her for two years and she had actually done her graduate degree at the University of Toronto in Environmental Chemistry. And here at the university of Toronto they have a great environmental chemistry program, so I knew I wanted to come here and continue to study it.

So you were a winner of the Virtual Poster Showcase. Would you be able to give a brief description of your abstract for that?

Yeah! So the project that I submitted was entitled the photo reactivity of atmospheric dust quantifying hydroxyl radical production using molecular probes. The research focused on the idea that when mineral dust was illuminated it could produce a very reactive species called hydroxyl radicals. In environmental chemistry we focus a lot on hydroxyl radicals because they are very very reactive. They react with almost everything and so my project was focused on developing a method with which to detect these very short-lived hydroxyl radicals. We were using molecular probes so molecules that were known to react to the hydroxyl radicals that formed a very well characterized product that we could detect so depending on the amount of product that we were forming we would know how many hydroxyl radicals we had produced and really my poster for the Virtual Poster Showcase went through a couple of different molecular probes that we tested and the results we got from that.

Can you describe your overall experience of participating in the Virtual Poster Showcase and maybe say a little bit about what it meant to be a winner and how that’s maybe influenced your graduate school career?

Yeah for sure. I loved the experience. It was during my fourth year in the Fall of 2016 and this was when I was writing grad school applications and I was working on my fourth-year thesis and I was still taking full course load. It was great because it was very achievable. I had time to do all of these things it was spread out over the semester, I had to write an abstract, make a poster, record myself presenting. I got to apply to referee and listen to other undergrads research projects also. So that was really cool that I got to do that and continue with everything that I was already doing. As most of us know in our fourth year we are pretty busy. And I got to attend the AGU Fall Meeting in 2017 so the year after I did the Virtual Poster Showcase, and this was after I moved from Edmonton to Toronto to start grad school. I got to go to New Orleans with my new lab, so I got to bond with them a little bit more and really get the experience of going to all these talks on my new topic of research. I was presenting my undergraduate stuff so that was also kind of… at that point it felt like a throwback – I know it wasn’t that far out, but it was really fun.

Do you have any advice for students who maybe want to participate in the Virtual Poster Showcase?

For me if you’re on the fence about doing it I would just say go ahead and jump in its not very expensive, its not a big-time commitment, it’s a great experience to get to communicate with experts and judges and other students, so I would just got ahead and do it! That would be my advice.

Awesome! This year is the centennial year for AGU could you touch on how you feel about being part of such a big moment in the geosciences.

It’s very exciting. When I attended the AGU Fall Meeting two years ago in 2017 they were already kind of pumping this up and that was the first I had heard of it so it was already very exciting then so I am already looking forward to attending the Fall Meeting this year I think its going to be even better then the first time and even just getting to talk to you guys about my Virtual Poster Showcase is also very exciting.

What do you hope the geosciences will help humanity understand and achieve in the future?

This was the hardest questions I had to think about this a lot. With my current research I think a lot about the changing climate and how our oceans are changing, and our atmosphere is changing and the repercussions it has for us. For me I am hoping that geoscience will not only help humanity understand the effects of the changing climate but also the solutions that can be used to mitigate those affects that I think at this point will inevitably be felt. That’s really what I am hoping my science and our science can do.

Right, I think the work and research you are doing right now is going to be incredibly important in the coming years with the changing climate so that’s great. That is all that we have we want to say thank you again for taking the time out of your day to participate in this and talk a little bit about your Virtual Poster Showcase Experience do you have any questions or anything that you want to say before we go ahead and log off?

Uh no I think I am good.

We want to thank you for participating and we really are looking to inspire students to participate in the Centennial VPS so were looking more for how your experience can be an inspiration and motivation to other.