CyberGuide Highlight: Alexis Marsh

eCYBERMISSION CyberGuides come from backgrounds as various as they are fascinating. Whether scientists, engineers, science communicators, educators, or something else, CyberGuides are united by their shared passion for mentorship. Recently, we connected with first-time CyberGuide, Alexis Marsh, to learn about her STEM journey and get her best advice for students just beginning to dip their toes into the world of STEM.

To kick us off, please introduce yourself!
My name is Alexis Marsh, and I am a 3rd year PhD student in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at Iowa State University. I work as a graduate research assistant in a software engineering lab. I received my undergraduate degree in Mathematics from Eastern Michigan University.

You’re currently pursuing a PhD at Iowa State University. Could you share a bit about what you’re studying?
Bioinformatics and Computational Biology is able to harness data and models to develop new knowledge helping guide further experimentation. My primary focus is on improving predictions made by microbial metabolic modeling tools. I do this in two ways. The objective of the first direction is to improve the computational models of microbes. My second aim is to improve the software tools that work with and make decisions based on these models. I am also collaborating on a project looking to improve the modeling of microbial communities such that we can better understand them and the interactions between the organisms.

What was your journey into the field of bioinformatics like? Have you always known this is what you wanted to do?
I always knew I wanted to do something in STEM, but I did not know I would end up choosing bioinformatics. In middle school and high school, I was most interested in wet-lab biology and chemistry eventually thinking I would ultimately be a wet-lab biochemist. I enjoyed being able to watch chemistry happen in the lab. My first research experience was in an organic chemistry lab, and I developed an appreciation for the guidance computational science can provide to wet-lab research which helps accelerate the discovery process. As I progressed through college, I developed my passion for computational sciences, math, and computer science, and had an opportunity to work in a computational chemistry lab focusing on biochemistry questions. This cemented my focus on using computational science to understand biology.

PhDs are notoriously difficult and can be a long journey. What is the toughest part of what you do and how do you stay motivated when the going gets tough?
At the heart of a PhD is answering a question that no one knows the solution to, and this is where the primary difficulties lie. It can be hard to know what questions to ask to solve your main question and how to develop strategies to discover their answers. I think understanding that it is often a long and challenging process helps. Everyone encounters difficult times during their PhD, but no PhD is completed in a vacuum. The support I receive from my friends and family is vital. It is also important to step away from your work and enjoy other interests while in graduate school. This helps me stay productive and fend off burnout. While there are many challenges, it is also very rewarding. I really enjoy the process of contributing to the body of scientific knowledge and successes along the way.

Mentorship and your role as a CyberGuide:

Mentorship is a vital component of growing in STEM. How have your personal mentors helped you in your academic and professional journey?
In addition to sharing their knowledge and helping guide my research, my mentors have shared their insight into steps to take to develop my career. This includes applying to internships and networking as well as considering options such as applying for postdoctoral or tenure-track positions. Learning from their experiences has been invaluable.

What inspired you to become a mentor yourself in the form of an eCYBERMISSION CyberGuide?
STEM offers many dynamic, exciting, and rewarding careers, but it can be hard to know how to get into the field. It is important for students to have access to people in the field, so they can learn more about the many great opportunities and have support through their journey as well as guidance on how to best prepare themselves for their future.

What is your favorite part of being a CyberGuide?
The best part of being a CyberGuide is interacting with the students and hearing about their awesome ideas: their enthusiasm is contagious! I also love being able to share my passion for STEM and knowledge with students.

Greater representation of women in STEM, especially in fields like mathematics and engineering, is greatly needed. How has being a woman in STEM informed your perception of mentorship?
It is important to have visibility which makes mentorship so vital. It is hard for students to envision going down paths where they are underrepresented. For me, being able to draw on the experiences of women in STEM has been important, and I am grateful for the opportunity to provide the same to the next generation.

Advice to Students:

STEM can feel daunting for students. What advice do you have for students that are interested in STEM, but struggling with feeling intimidated?
Start by picking something you are interested in and break it into small pieces. Then pick another topic you are excited about and do the same thing. You shouldn’t expect yourself to be able to learn everything right away. There is a lot of STEM. While you should explore as much as you can, you will eventually specialize so don’t feel overwhelmed by the volume of knowledge. Remember that everyone starts in the same position: no one is born understanding physics or knowing biology. Be patient with yourself as you are developing new skills and learning new languages. It is okay to have to work hard to understand. Even if you don’t excel in one area doesn’t mean there isn’t another area that you would. Don’t let a single failure or stumble mean you have to give up on it. Keep trying! Learn as much as you can and remember everyone runs into roadblocks. All that matters is you keep going.

The perception of STEM careers is often limited to people in lab coats surrounded by beakers. What do you think is the best way for students to learn more about, or even gain experience in, the myriad of STEM careers that exist?
Take any opportunities available. Reach out to your science/math teachers and see if they know about opportunities for clubs, internships, workshops, science fairs, etc. Look at local organizations, such as universities and libraries, that may have outreach or other STEM events. These events can be aimed at students and members of the community more generally and provide exposure to many different areas of STEM.

What do you think is the most important thing a student can do now (6th - 9th grade) to prepare themselves for a future in STEM?
Science is a journey. Focus on discovering what you are passionate about. Try and learn about many different fields. You may be surprised what you find most captivating. But, most importantly, have fun!

What is the best advice you’ve received in your STEM journey?
A professor who shared a lab with my organic chemistry professor told me it was important to explore as many areas of chemistry and learn as much as I could as, once I got to graduate school, I would have to specialize and thus be more limited as to what I could learn. This applies to any field – not just chemistry.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your perspective and answer our questions! To finish, we would love to open the floor to you to share anything else that you think will be impactful for students. Do you have any other advice or stories to share?
If you are reading this, you are already on the right track! You are seeking out opportunities and taking initiative. You are discovering and learning about STEM while striving to answer your science question or engineering problem.


Alexis’ passion for STEM and enthusiasm for mentorship are contagious. You can catch her at our CyberGuide Live Chats or say hello via our eCYBERMISSION Message Board! eCYBERMISSION registration is currently open at

Faith Benner
AEOP Senior Communications and Marketing Specialist


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