When I was in elementary school growing up in small town Wayland, Michigan, I decided to obtain my PhD so that I could study and figure out why yawns are contagious. While I did eventually get that PhD, I still don’t know why yawns are contagious! My research career began in 2008, when I clinched a summer fund through the Grand Valley State University's Student Summer Scholars Program my junior year of undergraduate studies. My research was genetics focused, but it was during a basic microbiology course required for my degree that I fell in love with microbiology. I graduated in 2010 aiming to combine my love for genetics and newfound passion for microbiology while pursuing my doctorate degree at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston, Texas.
It was at BCM where I first learned about the microbiome-the entirety of microbes (and their gene products) that live in and on the human body. I learned how to characterize microbial communities through marker gene sequencing, and began to see human diseases as a complex interplay between several factors-both genetic and environmental-rather than as a consequence of a single gene mutation or anomaly. I joined the laboratory of Dr. Joseph Petrosino, director of the Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome research, where I learned to use open source state of the art software tools to analyze microbial communities. I worked with a variety of sample types-from stool to oral to skin of cadavers-thus becoming a well-rounded microbiome researcher with experience across a large variety of sample types. I obtained my PhD on the human microbiome in less than four years and joined the lab of one of the elite microbiome researchers in the world, Dr. Rob Knight. It was in his lab where I began to really study the intricate ways the microbiome can affect our health, and what it means to be human. I became especially interested in how our western lifestyles have affected our microbial exposures, and in turn, our health.
After nearly a year and a half as a postdoctoral researcher in Rob Knight’s lab, I took my career to the next level by accepting the role of Project Manager for the American Gut Project, the largest crowd sourced citizen science project in existence, run out of the Knight lab. As Project Manager of Amerian Gut, I was able to further microbiome research while also bringing science to the broader community, facilitating a general appreciation for science. As this appreciation grows, however, scientists are increasingly in a difficult position to accurately share their work,especially as they fight against click-bait headline coverage of microbiome research.
The extreme gap in responsible education on the microbiome (and science in general) led me full circle back to an early passion: writing. I have decided to use my writing skills, as well as public speaking and general outreach,to become a science writer and science communication consultant. I hope my efforts will help scientists better explain their work to the people to whom it matters most. My new career has led me to Ecuador, where I helped kickstart a microbiome research and education effort there, as well as to partnerships with several exciting companies, including SynBioBeta, for whom I regularly write articles about the companies and researchers leading synthetic biology today.
While I do love science, I do enjoy life outside of the laboratory. A hurdler in high school and half-marathoner later in life, I am now an avid CrossFitter and a Level 1 CrossFit trainer. I also love to write (for pleasure), read, ride horses, and travel. Finally, I really enjoy studying the Hebrew roots of Christianity as we know it today, and I have a passion for Torah as written in Scripture -- pure and unadulterated by the traditions of man -- as a way of life and not a religion.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story and to visit my site. Please read more about my research and my work, and I’d love to hear from you!