Charmaine Sample, or Char, as she prefers to be called, joined Idaho National Laboratory (INL)’s Cybercore Integration Center team this August as the senior cybersecurity research officer. Her job involves exploring and understanding the multitude of research activities going on in cyber, both inside and outside the lab, and plotting the direction for continued INL research. Sample’s career in internet security began in 1994, when she worked at Trusted Information Systems in Glenwood, Maryland, and her interest in the field continued to grow from there.
What inspired you to work in STEM?
Research itself has always been a fascinating topic for me. As a child, I knew that I wanted to be a scientist, but the path to information security was a little bit more circuitous. At first, I thought I was going to be a biological researcher and find a cure for cancer. During my undergrad years, I started off in life science, and then switched my major to computer science. I was very happy being a programmer while starting my family, so I didn’t delve into the security area until a little bit later. Once I did start working in information security, I noticed that the same problems were constantly popping up, and in the late ‘90s, I decided I could make more of an impact on the research side.
What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
I still get a big thrill any time a study I’m involved in kicks off. It’s always fun to follow the study and wait for the findings. It’s also amazing, because no matter what the findings are, each study sparks a whole new set of intriguing questions. That’s really what gets me out of bed in the morning!
How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
I may have a bit of an unconventional answer on this, but I actually think that we should be going to their primary areas of interest and then figuring out how we can mold our STEM objectives into these other areas. We already know through many studies that women, if they are going to stick with the sciences, tend more often to gravitate toward life sciences. So instead of focusing on how to get women into cyber specifically, we should consider how we can bring cyber to the life sciences, or other areas of interest, and build from there.
We can use this same model with the social sciences, like psychology and other behavioral sciences. There are already huge aspects of cyber in behavioral science, and right now, as we are advertising cyber, we aren’t really mentioning that. We could easily engage more behavioral scientists through discussions about understanding how hackers, attackers and defenders think.
It seems like this has been a challenging concept for many years. We’ve been engaging the idea of getting more women and underrepresented groups in STEM for a while, and we don’t appear to be making quite the traction we want to be. It’s time to start engaging them by asking them what they are interested in and how we can help them get to fields like cyber through those interests. It may be a slower process, but the returns will be much stronger. We will be getting entirely new perspectives in cyber, which will add new insights and help expand how we look at our current problems.
Do you have tips you’d recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
I would say anyone who is interested and wants to get involved with cyber would do very well to learn how to become a successful overall problem solver. I think this would involve adding some courses in logic – philosophical logic and reasoning, not just computer logic. Also, I would recommend adding many different courses outside the cyber arena. Be bold; don’t be afraid to stretch your horizons. Take an art class! This will help expand your thoughts, and then you can solve problems in cyber using models from other departments and areas of study.
When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
I’m not very good at photography, but I love going for walks and just photographing the things I stumble across. I do also have a soccer addiction, and in general, I love all sports. I’m especially excited to get back into skiing and winter sports now that I’m here in Idaho.
Learn more about our programs & resources for women and girls in STEM at http://www.energy.gov/women