Argonne Conference Shows Girls it’s Chic to be a Geek
Graduate student Katarina Ruscic shared her wisdom with local high schoolers on how to be an influential scientist—and look fierce while doing it.
When you think of standard scientist gear, your imagination probably veers more toward lab coats than leopard print.
Unless you’ve met Katarina Ruscic.
With her long brown hair, knee-high boots and crimson lips, Ruscic proudly flouts stereotypes about women in science as she simultaneously pursues an MD and PhD at the University of Chicago.
Ruscic spoke to roughly 350 female high school students at Argonne National Laboratory Thursday, offering her wisdom on reaching goals while staying true to yourself.
Her talk was part of the lab’s daylong Science Careers in Search of Women Conference that introduces area teens to opportunities for women in research.
Ruscic eschews the idea that women need to downplay their femininity to be taken seriously as a scientist, doctor or engineer.
“Science can be glamorous if you want it to be,” Ruscic told the girls after showing them a video about how she melds her love of fashion with her professional goals.
But don’t confuse glamorous with dainty.
The self-proclaimed "Chic Geek" may look delicate, but her research is as hard-boiled as it comes. She works in a lab investigating the effect of snake venom on treating heart patients. The lab—as well as a Ruscic cameo—was featured in a 2011 episode of the PBS documentary series NOVA. (A repeat is scheduled to air May 30.)
Ruscic’s family came to the U.S. from Croatia when she was 3-years-old, settling in Downers Grove. Both her parents work for Argonne. Twelve years ago, she herself sat in the audience during the same conference.
She told the girls that she set goals for herself early. At 13, she created a list of aspirations: Be the high school valedictorian; do scientific research; become a doctor; win a Nobel prize; have three children; and live in a castle in the mountains.
Ruscic has already crossed the first two off her list, and is well on her way to achieving the third. As for the rest—there’s still plenty of time.
Argonne physicist Kawtar Hafidi, who chaired the 25th annual conference, said Ruscic was an obvious choice as this year’s keynote speaker. The goal of the day is to instill in girls a passion for science that encourages them to dream big—whether they’re wearing gym shoes or high heels.
“You don’t meet many scientists with fashion aspirations. She’s pretty unique,” Hafidi said. “I hope the girls saw themselves in her.”
At least one student did. A girl who attends Downers Grove South, Ruscic’s alma mater, came up to Ruscic after the talk, breathless with excitement.
“You’re the most inspirational person I’ve ever met because you’re the most real,” the girl said. “You gave me goose bumps.”