I started as an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee in 2003 with a vague and unformed interest in biology. During my junior year, that interest took shape and grew when excellent courses from Gary McCracken (Evolution) and Nate Sanders (Conservation Biology) convinced me to switch my major from Biochemistry (which I had chosen half-heartedly) to Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
In Conservation Biology, we read Tom Whitham et al.’s 2006 paper in Nature Reviews Genetics, which had more impact on me that any other scientific paper I read as an undergraduate. So I was excited when, during my senior year, Jen Schweitzer and Joe Bailey (co-authors on NRG paper) were hired and joined the EEB department. I applied to work with them as a graduate student and after a stimulating and productive 5 years, I finished my PhD. I stayed on in the lab as a postdoc for another year and a half, and then spent one final semester at Tennessee as a lecturer teaching a large undergraduate course in General Ecology. Some of the highlights of my time at Tennessee were: Getting to travel to Australia and present at the International Botanical Conference, having one of my dissertation chapters accepted at Ecology Letters, spending two summers doing field work on Hawaii during my postdoc, and enjoying the friendly and stress-free lab environment that lasted without issue for all seven years.
During my first postdoc, I was also fortunate to serve on an NSF-funded curriculum reform committee organized by the Beth Schussler, the Director of Biology Teaching and Learning for the university. I worked with a group including undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members that focused on developing activities and assignments for the “discussion” portion of a freshman class on Biodiversity. That experience, combined with what I learned teaching General Ecology, expanded my interest in how students learn and inspired me to be (hopefully) more thoughtful in my approach to teaching.
I started my second postdoc in Rachael Winfree’s lab at Rutgers in August of 2014. I’ve shifted to working on new statistical/theoretical approaches to questions in community ecology, and I absolutely love it. The focus of the lab is pollination ecology, which has always been of interest to me, but working on it day-to-day is convincing me that plant-pollinator interactions could be a centerpiece of my research. I haven’t felt that way about a system before – (don’t get me wrong, I was fascinated by the conceptual, question-based side of what I did for my PhD, and what I learned there will always influence the types of questions I ask) – but I never developed much of a passion for goldenrod. I expect my future research to combine my long-standing interest in plant community ecology with my more recent experience in pollination and statistical/theoretical ecology.
Outside of work, I enjoy tracking down great ingredients for cooking, playing soccer, taking wildflower pictures, all dogs, and spending time with family.