Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A: Like most kids, I went through a series of dream professions including nursing and teaching. But I think the one that had the longest run was archaeologist. I was obsessed with the idea of solving mysteries of the ancient world. Looking back, I think that I was most attracted to discovering something new and important, which I get to do now as a researcher.
Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.
A: I always liked science and understanding how life works, but it wasn’t until my senior year of high school when I found a field that really captured my imagination. It was in Mrs. Bush’s AP Biology class at Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio, where I first learned about life at the microscopic level, including the functions of cells and the structures inside of them. I chose microbiology as my major at The Ohio State University — and have been hooked ever since.
Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?
A: This question made me laugh because, as a mother of a 1-year-old and head of a research lab, when am I not encountering a tricky problem? When I was in my sixth year of my PhD, the lab I was in moved to a newly renovated space. The lab was great, but once I resumed experiments in the new location, one of my key results vanished. Something that repeated many times just stopped happening. This work was supposed to be a dissertation chapter and a publication, but not if I couldn’t repeat the findings. I spent weeks troubleshooting the experiment and systematically replacing each component of my growth media to find the problem. Finally, I had replaced everything but the water, which was a different source now that we moved labs. I went back to the old lab to remake media with that water and — poof — I was back in business. I learned not to give up on myself and that water chemistry is important.
Q: Describe your research in 5 words.
A: “Even bacteria experience sibling rivalry.”
Q: What are your passions outside of research?
A: I love being active. I play racquetball and enjoy spin class, yoga, Pilates, and jogging with my husband and daughter. I also value time with family and friends, as well as a nice coffee or glass of wine. I find that I feel my best and think most creatively when I have good balance in my life.