Postdoctoral Research Associate, The Chen Lab
You work in a laboratory. What are you currently researching?
I am currently working with a massive set (>3000) of genotyped, pedigreed Florida Scrub-jay samples, and am developing tools to process and analyze them. These tools currently include a method of imputing missing or low confidence genotypes in low coverage samples by using sets of related high-coverage samples, and using overlapping reads between multiple relatives to call mutations. Basically, I am trying to make the genotypes we have more accurate, and then I am using the data we have to determine where mutation events occurred in the genomes and in which bird they occurred. These will be useful for conservation work on the birds in question, but I also hope the tools I am making here will have broader applications as well.
What was it that originally sparked your interest in biology?
My parents put on a massive number of nature documentaries for me when I was very young, and I was somewhat enthralled. Through the years, as I was exposed to more and more subjects, I found I enjoyed a wide variety of sciences, but nothing quite eclipsed the fascination I built up at the very beginning of my life, so I ended up deepening my focus on it. I do appreciate that the type of biology research I get to do has some interdisciplinary elements to it. For people who enjoy science in general, it’s a “have your cake and eat it too” sort of situation when it comes to focusing your field.
What do you enjoy most about working here at the U of R?
Being part of a scientific community with as much active discussion as this one is a joy. Almost every conversation can turn into a chance to learn, to talk about the things you would normally assume are too niche for broad interest, and to have some of your preconceptions on the field challenged. Those conversations can just as easily be utterly unrelated to science, we aren’t that one-note, but the people here really do love their work, and beyond their work, the material that underlies it. We love to talk about science, and I find it a constant, powerful, and sometimes wonderful reminder of why I do the work I do.
What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned working here and/or studying biology?
The core lesson I’ve taken is probably “try to overestimate the time you’ll need.” I say this because I find any attempt I make to guess at how long a task or project will require is, no matter how carefully I try, invariably not enough time. The sooner people manage to get a grasp of the number of complications that can occur in this type of research, the better off they’ll be, both in terms of organization and just general mental well-being.
How do you think our biology department stands out in comparison to other universities?
I find the faculty here are more interested in active discussions with each other over papers, both new and old, as well as their own ongoing research, than they have been at previous places I’ve studied. This naturally draws in other students and researchers, and results in a much wider variety of subjects, and livelier debate over some of the field’s controversies. As a result of that last one, I think I have encountered more conflicting scientific views from different individuals here than at previous universities, which has been great for getting broader perspectives.