Meet the WinRs: Emily Brehm, MS

PhD Candidate at the University of Illinois


What is your background/current position and what does it entail?

I am about to begin my fourth year as a PhD candidate in the laboratory of Dr. Jodi Flaws at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Before I began graduate school, I worked as a technician in this laboratory.  My laboratory examines how exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals can affect the ovary and overall female fertility.  My project is specifically examining how prenatal exposure to phthalates may accelerate reproductive aging in multiple generations of female mice.  Phthalates are used as plasticizers and stabilizers in many different consumer products like medical bags, IV tubing, personal care products, building materials, and children’s toys.  

What impact has being quarantined had on your daily activities and position?

Being quarantined has definitely changed how my day normally goes.  At the beginning, I had mice to take care of, so I was going into the laboratory at the end of the day to take care of tasks that needed to be done and I went home right after that.  It has slowed down some progress of my research, however it has given me more time to work on manuscripts.  I now have a manuscript more than half prepared due to the extra time at home and as soon as I finish a couple more experiments it will be ready to submit. 

What strategies have you adopted in order to create a new "normal" for your daily activities and position?

Honestly learning how to take on one day at a time is a big strategy.  This may be the new “normal”, but it’s still very far from normal.  I know I am doing the best I can every day.  Some days the best you can do is answer a few e-mails and read one paper, but another day you could get a section of a manuscript finished.  If you get one small thing done on a list of many that is still a success to me.

Have you gained any valuable lessons from being in quarantine?

If anything, I have learned having a great support system will get you through almost anything.  Having an amazing mentor who knows how hard this whole situation is so important!  She knows this is tough and not normal and she has been proud of how our whole laboratory has made the best out of this while still managing to progress with our research and writing.  Besides a great mentor, having a good support system outside of work is vital.  My fiancé, friends, and family have all helped me in some way and I’m so appreciative of all of them!

What expectations have you had to let go or remove from your daily activities and position?

Making my own personal deadlines with my experiments has been the big one.  I have done what I can, but it has been very limited.  My laboratory is slowly starting to open back up, so I know I will get back on track soon. 

How have you stayed connected with friends and family during this time?

I have talked to many family members and friends almost daily via text, FaceTime, and Zoom.  I have also had the chance to play games via Zoom which has been new and entertaining. 

What will you do differently once you return to your position?

I don’t think I will do much differently besides wiping down my work stations and washing my hands even more than before.  I’m just excited to be back in my lab with my lab family sooner rather than later!

What are you most excited to do once the pandemic has cleared?

I’m looking forward to going to a restaurant, having a beer with friends and colleagues, and hugging my family members!

How has being a woman in science affected your experiences and/or position during quarantine?

Personally, I don’t feel like I have been affected during quarantine.  However, I know many women in science who have children and I commend them for everything they are dealing with right now.  They are an inspiration for all women in science to look up to.   

What words of inspiration would you like to share to other women in science and the future generation of women in science?

There is no perfect timeline for life.  Everyone’s path in life is different and things never go as planned.  This includes doing what is best for you and not what is best for others.  Also, try as hard as you can to not compare yourself to each other because everyone’s path is in fact different.