I was born/grew up in: I was born in California and grew up in Michigan where I learned to love being outdoors.
I now live in: I now live in Cambridge, Ontario
I completed my training/education at: I completed a BSc in Biology at Eastern Michigan University and a PhD in Biology at the University of Oregon.
What I do at work
Depending on the day, I can be engaged in any number of different activities. Some of the time, I will be working with students to help them with their projects. These may be undergraduate students in an Honours program, Masters or PhD students, or post-doctoral fellows. I help them troubleshoot issues they may have with the research they are doing.
Public speaking is a big part of what I do whether this is teaching in the classroom, presenting at international conferences, or talking to community groups. I currently participate in the GEN-FISH research network, a Canadian initiative that uses genomic tools for fish identification, stress and health using environmental DNA or “eDNA” that fishes shed into the environment. Prior to that, I served as Campaign Coordinator for the Fish Barcode of Life (FISH-BOL) initiative, a global project that sought to develop a standard reference sequence database of “DNA Barcodes” to support the identification of fishes.
Then there is my research work which involves a lot more to that than coming up with a hypothesis and designing an experiment! I have to keep up with the scientific literature in my area so that means I do a lot of reading. I also have to find funding to support the research we are doing. To do this I write a lot of proposals to government and industry groups. After my students and I do get to perform my experiments, we have to analyze the results and then write up these results for publication in research journals. Sharing what we know and have discovered to the rest of the scientific community is a big part of what a research scientist like me has to do.
My career path is
I did not set out to be researcher. I went to university because I had an interest in biology and chemistry and wanted to learn more. While I was there, I got interested in doing research and started down the road that led me to my current role.
After graduation I worked as a Curatorial Associate at the American museum of Natural History in New York City. Here I spearheaded the establishment of the Ambrose Monell Collection for Molecular and Microbial Research. Then I went to the Coriell Institute for Medical Research. Here I served as the Scientific Program Director where we developed a DNA barcode library for non-human primates. From there, I moved to the University of Guelph where I am a Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology. I am also a Fellow of the Arrell Food Institute and affiliated with the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario.
I am motivated by
One of the things that motivates me in my work is that it is very relevant to issues we are facing in our society. Helping ensure that we will have a safe food supply is very gratifying. While this can help make sure individuals are getting the food they are paying for, it also is important in the larger view of protecting endangered species and contributing to sustainability.
I also enjoy working with the young scientists who will be the movers and shakers of tomorrow. My mentors provided me with the skills and knowledge that helped me get to where I am today and I take great pride helping to prepare the next generation of scientists.
How I affect people’s lives
The research that we do has far ranging affects. Our eDNA research helps protect species-at-risk by determining where they live and helping to preserve critical habitat for them. The DNA-based bio-surveillance of agricultural pests, plant viruses and vectors of disease could have huge impacts on the way we grow our food, and deal with pests. It may help us protect farm animals as well as ourselves from disease and address issues of food security. We also use DNA barcoding to detect food fraud, particularly in seafood, where one species is sold as something else – usually a cheaper fish being sold as a more expensive one.
Outside of work I
I enjoy doing things outside, especially downhill skiing. I also enjoy cooking healthy meals from scratch to share with family and friends.
My advice to others
Read every day! Reading is so important to any academic career you plan to take on.