What do you do?
Being a professor means you do lots of things! I teach classes to mostly juniors and seniors. I teach immunology, endocrinology, comparative physiology, histology, ecophysiology, vertebrate reproduction, and herpetology. I also am a principal investigator of a lab, which means that I lead a team of awesome students who conduct research. We work with reptiles (mostly snakes and turtles) to understand how stress affects their immune system and reproduction. I work in the field collecting animals and samples, then run the samples in the lab using many cutting-edge tools to look at immune function, hormone levels, and other physiological functions. I also do a lot of mentoring to graduate and undergraduate students! The last big component of my job is outreach and service. I lead my department’s BioDiversity campaign as well as a committee for Herpetologists’ League to retain and improve diversity, inclusion, and equity. I love my job, but it means lots of juggling.
Why did you choose this field?
I knew I wanted to be a biologist when I was 5 years old. No one in my family really understood this desire, but they always supported me. My parents found a young woman scientist that went to our church. She took me to her lab and let me look at the microscopes! She is now a well-known soil biologist (Dr. Deb Neher). She was hugely inspirational to me. As a kid, I did lots of biological things. I collected and dissected roadkill. I monitored the bird nests around our house. I volunteered for the county conservation organization. I did as much as I could! My parents and family were incredibly supportive (although I was told I could not use the “good” tupperwear to store dead animals in the fridge). I have had many individuals throughout my career who have helped me and guided me. My undergraduate mentor, Dr. Fred Janzen, helped me understand what being a biologist actually entails. My Master’s co-advisor, Dr. Stephen Mullin, helped me gain confidence in my own abilities, while my other co-advisor, Dr. Karen Gaines, showed me how to be an incredible woman researcher. Finally, my PhD advisor, Dr. Susannah French, demonstrated how to be an amazing scientist while being a young mother! I have been fortunate to have many mentors and people who have believed in me — especially when I didn’t always believe in myself!
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I still struggle with this, but I wish that I wasn’t so hard on myself. I always expect more of myself than others do, and I get pretty upset with myself when I don’t reach my expectations. I wish that I knew that people were in my corner and it was okay to make some mistakes. And I wish I had been better at asking for help!
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working with people who are excited about learning. I love my colleagues. I love my students. It is so exciting to work with people who are thinking of things that no one has ever considered before. I love when a student comes to me with ideas! I love talking about science. I love when a student finally understands complex processes and begins to appreciate how incredible biology is.
Best advice for next generation?
I would tell them to surround themselves with people who are going to support them. It might be family, friends, teachers, professors, etc. Join a lab when you get to college. Volunteer in high school. Contact professors if you have a university near you. We love to meet people who love science. I just had a parent bring their 8th grade girl to the lab for a tour last week and it was great! When you surround yourself with a strong community, you are a stronger person.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
I have a daughter, Nora, who is 3 years old. I bring her into the field with me when I can. She’s better at identifying turtles and snakes than most people. Being a mom in science is one of the best things that someone can be!