Profile: Megan Majocha 

  • Current position: Tumor Biology PhD candidate
  • Location:  Georgetown University/NIH, Washington DC
  • Twitter: @meganmajocha,  
  • LinkedIn: Megan Majocha 

Tell us about your background?  

I am third generation deaf, and I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. My parents are deaf, and my sister and brother are CODA (Children of Deaf Adults). I attended Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and Plum Senior High School. I had an interpreter while attending Plum for half of the day, and most of my classes at Plum were science-related! I went to Gallaudet University and graduated with a B.S. degree in Biology in 2018. I was a part of the Deaf Scientist Training Program in the Hunter Lab during my one-year post-baccalaureate fellowship at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), right after graduation. After completing my fellowship in 2019, I joined the Georgetown/NIH Graduate Partnership Program to do my PhD in Tumor Biology. 

How did you get to where you are? 

I have always loved science and knew I wanted to do something with science, but I didn’t decide which field until college. I enjoyed genetics, and it was my favorite undergraduate class. I did a summer internship at Magee Women’s Research Institute studying reproductive biology after my first year of undergrad. I realized I loved doing basic science research, so I started leaning toward finding opportunities in the biomedical sciences field. It wasn’t until my post-baccalaureate fellowship at the NCI that I became intrigued by cancer research. Genetics is involved in cancer, and I was able to use my genetics knowledge which was a bonus for me! I knew I wanted to pursue a higher degree in cancer biology to understand the complexity of cancer and its mechanisms. I loved the freedom to form my research questions and ideas, and knew that going for a PhD is one of the ways to do so.  

What is a professional challenge you have faced related to your deafness?  

My biggest professional challenge has been finding interpreters who specialize in STEM. They are so hard to find. I was fortunate to meet a few scientifically trained interpreters in the lab at NCI. However, when it was time to start my first year as a PhD student at Georgetown, I was worried about finding qualified interpreters who have some experience in STEM. It was critical that I have consistent interpreters for my classes and lab work throughout the week. I did not want different interpreters assigned to me each day as it would be challenging for them to become familiar with my coursework and research. I wanted to be able to focus on my coursework and research, rather than teaching new interpreters signs and phrases all over again each time. I was fortunate to meet my team of interpreters who picked up science signs and became super familiar with my research, which was helpful. I have about 5-6 preferred scientific interpreters on my list, and I have them on-call full day the entire week, depending on their availability. However, I usually make sure I have two of my primary interpreters available to interpret for critical meetings, like my thesis committee meeting or presentations. The university accommodated me in so many ways, for which I’m very grateful.  

What is an example of accommodation that you either use or would like to use in your current job? 

I have at least one on-call interpreter in the lab daily from 9-5 pm. Sometimes there are two interpreters, depending on how heavy the meetings are on each day. The interpreters are aware of lab safety requirements prior to interpreting in the lab, and they have their own space in the lab, so they are always accessible. Suppose my colleagues are having a conversation in the lab and the interpreter can cover the conversation, then I am aware of what is being said instead of being left out. I can also use the on-call lab interpreter if I have a last-minute meeting or want to discuss my data with my PI or other lab members. 

What advice would you give your former self? 

Don’t be afraid to try new things and grab every opportunity given to you. Start networking early by reaching out to people in different fields and learning about what they do. Most importantly, life and work balance! 

Any funny stories you want to share?  

It was one long, dreadful day and one of my interpreters accidentally signed “farm” instead of “pharm”, which is short for pharmacology. Although they quickly corrected themselves, my interpreter and I still laugh about it to this day.

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