The Student Scientist, like a living being, is constantly evolving. Under Nicole Felix-Tovar’s direction, TSS Lifestyle hopes to reach a wider audience by integrating science into daily life. From skincare to nutrition to pets, topics published under TSS lifestyle will provide accessible and informative five to six-minute articles. Even though the pet category may seem unconventional, “a lot of thought goes into taking care of [pets],” Nicole points out, and being knowledgeable about food products and common diseases may allow readers to be more mindful with their pets. Nicole also hopes to start monthly projects, which will include “a series of 5-6 articles based on a theme; for example, the holidays, like Christmas, in December.”
The theme of incorporating science and learning into one’s daily life is nothing new for Nicole. This autumn as Nicole began her senior year in high school just outside of Orlando, Florida, I had the chance to interview Nicole over video. She gestured enthusiastically as she listed the activities she pursues outside of class including being President of her school’s National Honors Society, Vice President of STEMchats — a nonprofit that help celebrate, stimulate, and innovate STEM education for youth — a member of the Math National Honors Society, Science National Honors Society, French National Honors Society, Beta Club, Best Buddies, IB Student Advisory Board, and varsity tennis, as well as being a volunteer at the hospital. After hearing about these STEM-related clubs, I thought that it was no wonder that Nicole felt such as strong desire to be a part of The Student Scientist ever since learning about the site on a QuestBridge Facebook group. “The community aspect [at TSS] has been what I’ve been enjoying the most,” Nicole marveled. “We’re all here for the same purpose – which is to inform people, to explore science, and also to talk about our futures and to improve them. It’s [especially] amazing talking to people about what they want to do, where they want to go to college and what they’ve been up to… it’s just so inspiring.”
Indeed, Nicole is a strong believer in collaboration. “Teamwork is honestly the most important skill that you can develop as a human being,” she highlighted. “You grow much more when you’re talking to other people and when you’re working with other people…and you establish great relationships and friendships. I think…in general, being kind and inclusive and working with others is just the best way to go.” As editor of TSS Lifestyle, she collaborates with several of TSS’s writers and its marketing team. She also hopes to study abroad while in college because “[to her], being culturally aware is very important… no matter…what career you want to pursue, [but] especially in medicine [when] treating people of many different backgrounds.”
Nicole decided to add The Student Scientist to her already jam-packed schedule because TSS allows her to “[be] able to write about things that interest [her] in science and…put it out there.” Although she joked about not getting much sleep, she did emphasize the planning and dedication required for balancing extracurricular activities with her STEM classes. While holding a leadership role in some of her activities, Nicole makes sure that she is “efficient and mindful of everyone’s time [to help] it be worthwhile.” She stressed, “participating in what you actually enjoy makes it worthwhile as well. If you’re just doing it to impress other people or [to put] it on your college app… you’re going to start to feel stressed because you’re not really going to feel connected with what you’re doing.”
When Nicole was younger, she originally wanted to be a fiction writer. Yet as she grew older, she found science to both interesting and at times, difficult to grasp. The challenges she faces with difficult material only invigorated her willingness to learn. After all, her favorite childhood movie is Matilda, which tells the story of a young girl dedicated to educating herself even when Matilda’s own family members ostracized her for her interests. With science, Nicole believes that “you’re never going to be an expert in what you’re studying; you’re always going to be a lifelong student.” Pursuing medicine after college will allow her to delve deeper into science while using her knowledge to help others.
In her hopes to gain clinical experience and to help others, Nicole participated in Emory Winship Cancer Institute Summer Scholars Research Program last summer, “a six-week research internship for high school students in Atlanta at Emory’s Cancer Institute.” During the program, she interacted with students from Atlanta and met a genital urinary oncologist – an oncologist who specializes in the kidneys, prostrate and testis. “My mentor, [the oncologist], taught me everything I needed to know to successfully complete a research project,” she said. “He’s so inspiring not only as a doctor but also because he has incredible work ethic, empathy, and a desire to help people.” He encouraged her as she researched papillary renal cell carcinoma by analyzing the genomics of a racially and ethnically diverse group of kidney cancer patients. Her results found that the percentage of African American patients at Emory featuring the most frequent genetic mutation causing papillary renal cell carcinoma was much higher than the national average, suggesting that this population is disparately affected.
When I asked about any advice she could offer peer student scientists, Nicole’s eyes lit up. “I think that everyone should find a mentor – someone that shares your passion for science or whatever field you’re interested in – because that keeps you engaged…in conversation” in addition to your own studies and thoughts. She also wants students to not feel “discouraged in school if you struggle with a concept or you struggle to make connections. The most important aspect of success in any field of science is hard work not matter how gifted or bright you are at learning concepts. You’re always going to have to put in hard work to really solidify it.” Nicole can’t wait to start college at Emory University in Georgia. Throughout her college career and beyond, she hopes to inspire and expose minority communities everywhere to STEM research .
Felix-Tovar, Nicole. (2018, September 20). Video interview.