Graduate on unique journey as fiction writer and scientist
Graduation was a hectic time for many Indiana University School of Medicine students, including Emma Mills. Mills graduated this month with a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. Mills’ school career at IU School of Medicine has been a busy one, as she’s juggled her academic ambitions with her passion for writing.
Since high school, Mills has been writing young adult contemporary novels. Her first book, “A Fool’s Paradise” was self-published in March of 2012 during her first few years in college. Since then, Mills has had four other young adult fiction novels formally published through Macmillan Publishers, including “First and Then” (2015), “This Adventure Ends” (2016), “Foolish Hearts” (2019) and “Famous in a Small Town” (2019). Her next book is due to come out in 2020 titled “Lucky Caller.”
Mills answered a few questions about her academic journey and how she balanced her class work with an ambitious writing career.
What got you interested in getting a PhD degree in anatomy and cell biology?
I became interested in anatomy and cell biology by entering the school through the Indiana BioMedical Gateway (IBMG), which is an umbrella program for PhDs. For your first year, you’re kind of undeclared, and you can rotate through different labs to try to find the best fit for your interest.
Do you ever include your experiences in IU School of Medicine in your books?
Thus far, no. I’ve published four books, and the fifth book will come out in January of 2020. The fifth book will take place in Indianapolis, and the protagonist’s mother works at a school of medicine in a core laboratory. So a little bit, yes, I did slightly bring it in there. Eventually, I would like to write a kind of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)-themed young adult book for teens, especially because here on campus we have the seed program.
Was it difficult for you to balance your academics with your novel writing?
Yeah, I think it would be disingenuous to say it was very easy. I always said I wouldn’t do both if I weren’t truly interested and passionate about both things. It is tough, and it does require a lot of hard work, especially with respect to publishing deadlines and things like that. It can be a bit challenging if I’ve got a lot of experiments going on in the lab and then suddenly you also have this deadline from your publisher. However, I’m always focusing on my degree when I’m here.
What advice would you give a student who has aspirations to write fiction while working on a PhD?
Carve out the time to make it happen. I think you just really have to commit. I have been fortunate because my publisher has been very flexible in some aspects, so if I need more time for this or that they try to work with me. But school always has to come first. It’s been tricky for me, but I think when you’re really committed you can make it happen and I think people need to know that it can be done as well.
It looks like you have carved out two possible paths for a career, one as a writer and one as a scientist. Which do you see yourself pursuing?
I hope to find a career in science, hopefully, something that yields a little bit of flexibility so I can still pursue both. I feel excited to try to manage both.
How do you feel about finally graduating after all the time you spent here at IU School of Medicine?
It’s a complex feeling, I think it’s a transitional time, so there are lots of thoughts about the future and next steps. At the same time, it’s a bit nostalgic to kind of say goodbye to the school. It’s also exciting at the moment because I think there’s so much going on that it’s not fully sunk in yet.