Visiting Scientist, The Werren Lab
What are you currently researching?
I currently work in the Werren lab. We study the model organism Nasonia vitripennis, which is an ecto parasitoid wasp. These wasps are very different from what people are normally used to. The females inject venom into fly pupae and then lay their eggs inside. They are also very tiny, so, unless you're a fly, you have nothing to be afraid of! What we've learned from these wasps is that their venom, which is really a cocktail of components working in concert, causes developmental arrest in the host. My focus is to try to ascertain the evolutionary history and possible functionality of some of these venom components, as we currently only have an understanding of what some of the components do but there is a subset that are completely unknown.
What do you enjoy most about working here at the U of R?
Really it has been the exposure to something new. I've gained an entire set of skills and in a field that I never really considered before. Not in a million years would I have thought to be working with insects! The wealth of knowledge of my colleagues and Jack has been an amazing resource; I am always learning something new! Plus the office staff are just wonderful and friendly.
What was it that originally sparked your interest in biology?
I have always had an interest in science. I was disabled in 1985 well before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, so nothing was accessible for me, not even playgrounds, except for the library. My mom would walk us to the library and we'd check out books, and it was the librarians who introduced me to the science section for kids. I'd also watch Bill Nye and Mr. Wizard and demand that we do the experiments at home. So science was my avenue for exploring and understanding the environment that was largely inaccessible to me; you don't need to have legs that work in order to study biology, you just need to be curious and ask questions. This was the lesson I learned as a child and it still holds true to this day!
What is the most important thing that you’ve learned working here and/or studying Biology?
Studying Biology has taught me how to deal with failure and frustration. Not everything is straightforward or easy. And to do science well, you have to learn how to see failure as opportunities to grow and learn and to not let it stop you. The same is true with being frustrated. Personally, I think we focus too much on success/perfection. Not every experiment works, not every grant proposal gets accepted, so how do we prepare young scientists for those stumbling blocks in life?
How do you unwind when you're not in the lab?
In my spare time I volunteer for several different organizations. I am passionate about giving back to my community and helping people get excited about science. I also love to crochet amigurumi style, go skydiving, zip-lining, traveling, reading, kayaking, spending time with friends and my brothers... I am pretty adventurous and am always up for new experiences. My favorite quote is from the movie "Auntie Mame" with Rosalind Russel: “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”. So when the weather turns warm, I get out and enjoy life.