ASU Online graduate has sights set on research career

April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

When Kristen Krip graduated from Arizona State University in 2018 with an English degree, she loved writing, but she realized it wasn't what she wanted for her career. Kristen Krip Kristen Krip Download Full Image

Krip, who hails from Oxford, New Jersey, will graduate summa cum laude this spring with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry from the School of Molecular Sciences.

“Kristen is a fantastic student leader, a caring mother to her children, and a compassionate friend to the other online students,” said Ara Austin, who is senior director of online engagement and strategic initiatives in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and assistant clinical professor in the School of Molecular Sciences. “She exudes kindness to everyone she meets, and her passion and enthusiasm for learning is contagious. I'm excited to see her take the next step in her research career, and it has been a delight to mentor her over the years.”

After a couple of years of research experience, as lab manager in professor Babdor's lab at UPenn, Krip said she will start her doctoral program. She is also currently homeschooling her three children, ages 10, 8 and 6.

She has won many accolades, including the SMS Women in Science Scholarship, Online Undergrate Research Scholars Research scholarship and Diane Cavanagh Scholarship for Oncology Research.

Krip won third place in a conference poster session at the Arizona Physiological Society Annual Meeting in Scottsdale last year. The research was conducted as part of an immersion class with Assistant Teaching Professor Susan Holechek in the School of Life Sciences.

Since 2021, Krip has been a successful tutor for the Online Learning Resource Center in the School of Molecular Sciences. She is the president of the online STEM student society at ASU called IDEAS and was awarded an Arizona Cancer Evolution Center (ACE) scholarship. The ACE Scholars program aims to recruit motivated undergraduates from a diverse set of backgrounds and skillsets to pursue research projects at the intersection of cancer biology and evolutionary theory.

Read more about her ASU experience below.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in at ASU?

Answer: After I graduated with my degree in English, I wasn't really happy with my prospects. I enjoy writing for fun, but I realized that it wasn't what I wanted to do for a job. I had always been interested in science, though - as a teenager I had some health issues and considered being a doctor (rheumatologist) but after failing chemistry in high school, I thought I wasn't smart enough. My husband encouraged me to go back to school again, this time for biochemistry. I didn't know at the time what I actually wanted to do with it. I guess it was more of an experiment to see if I even could do it. My first semester back, I started with chemistry and completely decimated the class. After that, I kind of felt like I could do anything! 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: This question made me think. ... So, probably the number one thing that really surprised me or changed my perspective is just realizing the barriers in place that keep less privileged individuals from succeeding and following their dreams. I think ASU is doing an excellent job of breaking down those walls, and I hope they continue to do so. But there's still a lot of stigma around being an online student.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: As a mother of three young children, attending ASU was my most affordable option. I didn't have to figure out child care, financially or logistically. I'm able to watch lectures and do homework whenever I can actually work it into my schedule, which sometimes means waking up at 4 a.m. or staying up past midnight.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I don't know about "most important lesson " ... Different professors have taught me different things.

When I was in (Professor) Austin's organic chemistry class, I learned the power of "showing up". It wasn't a lesson she even directly taught me. But it was my third semester at ASU, and I had not really utilized office hours before. I'm not really even sure what drew me to office hours to begin with. ... But I went every week, and I spoke up and tried to answer questions and got to know her. I did very well and had the opportunity to work as a chemistry tutor, since she also runs the Online Learning Resource Center. I've been working as a tutor for over 2 years now. That experience taught me the importance of showing up and always giving your best, because it will open doors for you that you didn't even know you wanted. I've used that lesson in many situations since then.

From Professor Holechek, I learned a lot of those important transferable research skills, and I really just felt the power of someone believing in me. In the fall, I planned a personal experiment with a human intestinal epithelial cell line, and she encouraged me to reach out to different people and companies to get the supplies I needed to make it happen. There was a moment in the lab, when I was adding the antibodies to mark the specific protein I wanted to visualize, that really just hit me as very powerful. She believed I was capable before I knew I was. 

I owe so much to those two!

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?

A: Don't treat school as an "in order to". Yes, we are all here on a pitstop to get to where we really want to be, whatever that is. But you need to enjoy this journey, and you need to let it change you. Show up to office hours. Figure out your best study methods so you're not just brain-dumping after an exam. Make connections, build friendships. One of the best decisions I made was joining IDEAS Student Society, which I'm now president of. It's an online STEM club at ASU, connecting students stationed all over the world. I have made so many lifelong friends. Take advantage of all the opportunities staff at ASU is trying to build for you. Take a research class and visit campus for the in-person component. All of these things are going to prepare you for whatever comes after you graduate.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I've been to campus a few times for research immersions with Professor Holechek and my favorite food place is original ChopShop! I'm gluten-free, and the food there is just so delicious and satisfying.

As far as power-studying, my husband bought me a desk for our bedroom. So I'm usually either there or at the kitchen counter. My daughter likes me being near, so sometimes I'll just set up shop on the kitchen counter so she can play and run around or do school work, too.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I wanted to go to grad school. This past cycle, I applied to a handful of PhD programs and even got an interview! However, it wasn't a great match. I was recently hired as the lab manager for Professor Joel Babdor at the University of Pennsylvania.

I think it's important to remember for those who want to continue on for higher education, we're playing the long game here. Things have gotten progressively more competitive, and we can't take it personally if we aren't chosen on our first try. Figure out how to make yourself a more competitive candidate and build yourself up. Again and again.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would definitely tackle global warming. Even my kids talk about developing ways to capture carbon, reduce pollution, etc. It's a huge problem and the people who will suffer first (and the most) are those living in poverty. 

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences


ASU graduate aims to demystify AI through children's book

April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

How do we understand the story of artificial intelligence? Student Kacy Hatfield Kacy Hatfield Download Full Image

Kacy Hatfield is a student in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts who aims to make the story of AI accessible to all – and is doing so by writing a children’s book. Kacy is graduating this May with a degree in digital culture, and is an undergraduate researcher for the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics.

After graduation, she will pursue a master's degree and has been invited to participate in the Machine Intelligence Group at Draper Labs

She shared more about her college journey below. 

Question: Tell us a bit about your experience at ASU and how you came to study digital culture.

Answer: I actually came to ASU as a biochemistry major; I love chemistry and math, but the career path wasn't exactly what I wanted. I then explored career and creative job opportunities where I found digital culture and in just three days I was hooked and made the switch. And there is still so much of what I love in studying AI, and I get to integrate my love for chemistry and math into that. 

I actually hadn't even heard of machine learning until spring 2021, and after my professor introduced it to us, I asked her for book recommendations. From then on, I was obsessed with AI.

Q: What inspired you to pursue undergraduate research? 

A: Well, I actually did my honors thesis shortly after I learned about AI and machine learning. I decided that I wanted to pursue it, even though I really didn’t know much about the subject, and I pitched it to several professors I wanted to work with, who all were very supportive. I defended my thesis almost exactly a year after I had first learned about machine learning, and I just had such an amazing time working on my thesis that I wanted to continue doing research. 

I then found the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, which had an undergraduate research opportunity on responsible AI. I met with Research Program Manager Erica O’Neil over Zoom, and I thought it would be the perfect continuation of my work. It’s amazing to keep doing research on this, not just to learn but to ultimately come away with more questions. 

Q: You're working on a really fascinating project, in which you’re developing a children’s book on AI. Can you share more on this project? 

A: The premise is an illustrated children’s book that tells the story of an algorithm named Pip — like the command in Python Programming Language — and Pip has to classify seashells on the beach. How Pip classifies them starts out in very simple terms, and as waves wash up on the shore, more advanced terminology is revealed. There’s also a character named Epoch — another term in Python — as well as a character that represents the human in the loop. All of them are placed very strategically to represent what would take place if a machine learning algorithm were to be integrated in this area. 

Image of a book cover for Your Pal, PipThe goal is to help people feel less scared about machine learning. I often see AI described as a black box; something that that people can't see into, and can't understand. But I think the test of a good machine learning algorithm – and a good programmer — is to translate that black box into something that is easily understood.

Part of the reason I love machine learning is because even if I dedicate my entire life to studying AI, I will never have a fully comprehensive grasp of it, because it's just always expanding and advancing so fast. I think that's key in why people feel uncertainty about machine learning, especially when the Hollywood narrative of AI is the humanoid robot that is going to take over. The thing is, these technologies are amoral, not immoral. 

My goal as a researcher is to start mitigating skepticism around the subject of machine learning through this book. And this starts with younger people, but the book is also meant to be used by people of all ages. 

Q: How has your time in the responsible AI research group related back to your work? 

A: I love being in this research group. It's actually my second semester; last semester I did a project on the risks and mitigations of AI-powered autonomous spacecraft, which is another one of my interests. It’s so awesome to be part of a group of people that have such different backgrounds and different approaches to AI. There are so many interdisciplinary perspectives and topics brought up in discussion. 

I think that in terms of responsible AI – and a lot of people may disagree with me on this – it is integral for a programmer to also be able to see the ethical implications of whatever they're employing into the world. There’s often the argument that we should wait five years before evaluating those possible impacts; when I am working on programming, I'm immediately thinking about how it may affect the real world and be used. 

Machine learning is like a mirror - it's going to reflect whatever we give it, and humans are not perfect. This is why I think the conversations on ethics have to go hand in hand with the research itself, and it's really interesting to see how it comes about on all different fronts.

Q: What comes next for you in your career and future?

A: That’s the age-old question, isn’t it? I always have a list of problems that I can research! This may be a nerdy confession, but I love doing research even in my free time. I hope to direct that energy into the pursuit of a master's degree and possibly even a PhD. I have also been invited to join the Machine Intelligence Group at Draper Labs in summer 2023 as an undergraduate engineer, which is a very exciting opportunity. 

The amazing thing about this field is it's always changing, and in some regard, I will always feel like a student. And because the study of AI is so new, I feel like taking the ethical and programming approach at the same time would be a lot easier to integrate than something that's already established. I hope to keep these skills as best practices in the future. 

There is a lot of skepticism around AI and machine learning, and often I hear people say that it’s too complicated or complex. Everybody has the capability to understand AI, and it's not as scary as it seems. Even though it's been tremendously skewed for entertainment, which makes it easier to vilify, there are so many benefits to using machine learning, and we can employ it in the right ways to augment our human experience and not hinder it.

Karina Fitzgerald

Communications program coordinator , Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics