CDC Women in STEM Careers - Kristy Bearden, BS
Formerly a Chemist in the National Center for Environmental Health, CDC
Now attending Medical School
When Kristy Bearden was 5, her mom went back to school to become a nurse. Little Kristy used to lie on the couch and pretend she was reading the medical textbooks—even drawing on them with a highlighter, as her mom did. Who knew that would lead to a chemistry career with CDC?
When she was older, Kristy loved to watch pro football games on TV with her brother and dreamed of becoming a National Football League cheerleader. Who knew that would lead to a cheerleading career with the Atlanta Falcons?
People gave their opinions about her dual careers, she says. “I had some tell me they didn’t think I had the ability to be a chemist! I let comments like that inspire me to prove them wrong. They set fire beneath my feet to achieve my dreams.”
Dancing to Her Own Tune
My interest in dance came first. I started dance lessons when I was 3 years old. My family saw talent in me at a young age and pushed me to reach my potential.
My love for science quickly followed. Mom was a nurse, so I grew up around the hospital, which gave me an interest in medicine and public health. When I went to college and studied chemistry, my passion for science grew.
I made my own path. I was the first person to graduate from the University of Alabama with both a bachelor of science in chemistry and a bachelor of science in dance.
Being a dancer and a cheerleader comes with a truckload of stereotypes. It’s been a challenge to show people I’m a lot deeper than they expect.
A Winning Formula: Chemistry and Cheerleading
As a research chemist at CDC, I study a variety of tobacco products to see what chemicals are in them and at what levels. We pay special attention to harmful substances like tar, nicotine, and even pesticides in common cigarette brands. Our lab data assists the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in developing guidelines on tobacco products to protect public health.
I hope our research will lead to less tobacco use, which is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
A typical day at work starts with a “smoke run,” in which I begin my daily analysis of cigarettes. I extract chemicals, analyze samples, and interpret the results.
After work, I head straight to Atlanta Falcons cheerleading practice for another four to five hours of work. As a cheerleader, I have served the community by taking part in a variety of activities with the Special Olympics, Georgia Transplant Foundation, Center for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Development, and many more great groups.
Most people are surprised I have successfully combined two very different careers. The shock on their faces when they find out that I am a research chemist and a professional cheerleader is priceless.
Advice to Girls and Young Women
- Not everyone is going to like you, and not everyone is going to believe in you, but don’t let that stop you from reaching ALL of your goals. Most importantly, don’t let fear of failure EVER hold you back. You will succeed. You cannot give up on yourself.
- Your opportunities are endless. You don’t have to choose one career over another if you’re willing to work hard to balance it all. It’s exhausting at times, but it’s a blast!
- Keep trying and pushing yourself until you get to the top.