Emma Norris (PhD ’20) joined the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology specifically to work under the mentorship of Denise C. Hocking, PhD, after spending the summer in her lab as an undergraduate in 2012.
“She recognized that, for me, it was important not only to be doing science, but to be out talking to people about science,” recalls Norris. “That gave me new energy to come into the lab every day.”
A clarinet player since fifth grade and a serious musician in college, Norris is interested in using the physical effects of sound to influence biology.
Working at the intersection of cellular physiology and biomedical acoustics, Norris needed a training environment in which she could access expertise in both areas—and the department’s strong collaborative relationship with the Biomedical Engineering department made that possible.
“We are living in a global society where the contributions of science to improving human livelihood aren’t always fully appreciated and are even actively denied,” Norris says. “Science communication has an important role to play. And in order to succeed as communicators, scientists have a lot of work to do ourselves to really understand where our audiences are coming from.”
As her PhD research progressively narrowed, Norris began looking for opportunities to educate the public about science communication. She co-organized the local March for Science in 2017, and cofounded a nonprofit organization that hosts community events promoting scientific research—and the important social and ethical conversations that grow out of it.
In addition to her most recent research studying the small intestines both during homeostasis and during interactions with pathogens, Norris is at work on a novel, inspired in part by her own experiences as a scientist-in-training.
“It’s definitely not a conventional path,” she notes of her scientific journey. “But it really reaffirms what I’ve found throughout my training—that our department is a place where trainees pursuing new ideas, and sometimes unconventional career paths, will find support.”