A mother, wife, professor, and on top of all of these roles, a scientist. Nikki Reinemann is an affiliate assistant professor of Chemical Engineering at the Biomedical Engineering Department at the University of Mississippi. From the time she was a little girl, she knew that a career in the science field was in her future.
“When I was little I always watched the PBS specials, Bill Nye the Science Guy and all that good stuff, I just thought it was really cool and then, when I got into highschool I was really interested in chemistry and math,” she said.
Originally from Batesville, Reinemann was born and raised in Mississippi. She graduated with dual degrees in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry from the University of Mississippi. She continued her education at Vanderbilt University where she earned a Doctoral degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in 2018. Through her studies, she fell in love with research, and quickly realized this is what she is meant to do in her life.
“Once I got into college and started doing research in a lab, I realized what research was, and fell even more in love with it,” Reinemann said. “You know this sense of discovery, the sense of doing something that no one else has done, is really rewarding.”
Collegiate and career experiences as a woman in STEM
In her role as a professor, one of the biggest responsibilities she has is running a molecular, biophysics and engineering lab where her students look at proteins that make human bodies do certain things such as contract muscles. She says her job is a dream come true.
“I have always had an interest in science and math and I always thought that research, whatever research meant, was really cool, you could do something that’s gonna help somebody,” Reinemann said.
While she loves her job, she says being a woman in STEM is not easy. She was the only female in her cohort of 10 students during her Ph.D. program, and now she is the only woman in her department.
“In just about every STEM situation I have been in, I have pretty much been the only woman and so, I guess I’m used to it at this point,” Reinemann said. “It took alot of soul searching to figure out how to be confident and stay true to myself, and it was a learning process but, it has made me a much stronger individual.”
She said working in a very male-dominated field has its set of advantages and disadvantages.
“Because women are an underrepresented minority in just about any STEM field, you do get targeted more for different opportunities. One of the buzzwords in STEM is diversity so, trying to find more diverse non-white, non-male people to participate in STEM, whether it’s actually going out into the workforce or going into academia. So, I’m not going to say that it hasn’t helped in some opportunities,” Reinemann said.
At the beginning of her career she struggled with confidence, and she felt like she had no idea what she was doing.
“But then it turns out, ‘Oh gee, everyone else is having the same struggles that I am, we just needed to talk about it’ and so, I learned as long as I can communicate with the others that I am working with, even if they’re all other males, 99% of the time, we all have something in common,” she said.
Reinemann is married, has two children, and currently resides in Oxford. She plans to continue developing the work in her lab with her students at her Alma Mater, when she is not busy at home caring for her newborn and young son.