18th September 2017- Hannah Brazeau, Algoma University

Hannah BrazeauHello everyone! I’m Hannah, a final year BSc. Biology student at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Prior to starting my undergraduate degree, I trained as a laboratory technician through the biotechnology program at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario. The education I received at St. Lawrence deepened my interest in environmental science and gave me the push I needed to pursue a degree in science.

 I am a big-time fan of plants, with an interest in plant-plant interactions and invasive plant species. Now that I am in the final year of my degree, I will be writing my honours thesis in Dr. Brandon Schamp’s plant community ecology lab at Algoma U. You can learn more about the work going on his lab by visiting: http://people.auc.ca/schamp/index.html

While I am at Biotweeps, I will be aiming to give you all a window into the day-to-day experiences of studying biology at the undergraduate level. I will be discussing what it is like to study science at a small university, starting a career in science later in life, early career engagement in science communication, and of course, the fascinating world of plants. There may also be a few Star Trek references thrown in (sorry, I can’t help myself).

 I will also be dedicating a full day to discussing general advice for new students that are just starting out at university for the first time, and I am looking forward to hearing and sharing some words of wisdom from you all.


9th January 2017 – Kelsey Byers, University of Zürich

kelsey-byers-2Hi everyone!  My name is Kelsey Byers; I’m currently finishing up my first postdoc at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

I grew up in the northeastern United States near Boston and did my undergraduate degree in biology; the program was focused on molecular and cellular biology.  I decided after four years of that and a fifth year as a technician working on transcription factors that I wanted to shift to a more evolutionary focus, while maintaining molecular biology & genetics in my toolkit.  I moved out west to Seattle for a PhD at the University of Washington in the Department of Biology in evolutionary genetics and speciation with my PhD advisors H.D. “Toby” Bradshaw, Jr. and Jeff Riffell.

In my PhD I worked with flowers in the genus Mimulus (the monkeyflowers, family Phrymaceae) and their pollinators.  Two species of Mimulus, Mimulus lewisii and M. cardinalis, are in sympatry (grow together) in the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California.  Where they grow together, the main factor keeping them from hybridizing (the main reproductive isolation barrier) is pollinator choice – M. lewisii is pollinated by bumblebees, M. cardinalis by hummingbirds.  I was able to show with some experiments with hawkmoths that Mimulus lewisii produces floral scent, even though we can’t smell it (humans have very poor noses, as it happens, despite our response to coffee!).  It turns out that bumblebees respond very strongly to these weak scent compounds both neurologically and behaviorally.  I was able to work out the genetic basis of the species’ differences in floral scent compounds, and using transgenic plants in the greenhouse, I demonstrated that if you remove the most critical compound from M. lewisii, its bumblebee pollinators are less likely to visit it.

In August of 2014 I moved to Switzerland to work with Florian Schiestl and Philipp Schlueter on two species of alpine orchids in the genus Gymnadenia that are native to the Alps.  The two species are pretty closely related but look – and smell – really different!  Here I’m working less with speciation and am looking more at adaptation, focusing on two main projects. First, I’m looking at species differences in selection (including pollinator-mediated selection) on a large variety of floral traits in the field.  Second, I’m looking at the patterns of floral trait inheritance in hybrids in Gymnadenia – are they inherited as discrete ‘blocks’ of traits, or do hybrids align more closely to one parent or the other?

In the next few months I’ll be moving to the University of Cambridge to work on a postdoc with Chris Jiggins on speciation and reproductive isolation in Heliconius butterflies in Panama.  Although it’s a bit of a departure from my previous focus on plant-pollinator interactions, the broader concepts of chemical ecology, speciation genetics, and insect olfaction are very much at the center of my research work, so I’m very excited!

Feel free to ask anything and everything!  I’m excited to be here with Biotweeps!

26th of September 2016 – Scott J. Davidson, University of Sheffield

scott-davidsonHi, I’m Scott, a final year PhD student at the University of Sheffield with collaborative links with San Diego State University and Utrecht University.
I am researching linkages between vegetation communities and methane (CH4) emissions at multiple scales in arctic tundra landscapes along a latitudinal gradient in Northern Alaska. I am interested in i) identifying the key biotic and abiotic drivers of CH4 fluxes across fine-scale micro-topographic features and ii) combining vegetation community analyses with field spectroscopy and remote sensing to improve vegetation mapping and thus enable better understanding of scaling from chamber to eddy covariance tower measurements. I’m passionate about all things arctic and alpine, alongside an interest in science communication and promoting more diversity in STEM.

16th May 2016 – Kelly Ksiazek, Northwestern University and The Chicago Botanic Garden

Kelly KsiazekKelly Ksiazek (@GreenCityGal) is a fifth year PhD candidate and Presidential Fellow in Plant Biology and Conservation at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. She believes that the complexity and beauty of nature can be found all around us, including in our plentiful urban habitats. Biodiversity conservation could be better supported in cities if more was known about how communities respond to the harsh conditions of the so-called “concrete jungle.” She sees particular potential in the vegetated or green roof; a type of increasingly common habitat that incorporates a layer of growing media and plants into buildings. Her research looks at the possibility of using urban green roofs as habitat for native plant and pollinator conservation. Most of her experiments take place in and around her hometown of Chicago, IL USA where she is discovering how to incorporate various components of biodiversity into green roof designs that mimic local shortgrass prairies.

As a former high school science teacher, Kelly also enjoys finding opportunities to engage in science communication such as through her research blog (https://GreenRoofResearch.wordpress.com), a recently published activity book for children (www.greeningUPthecity.com) and various school and community presentations (for example, this week at the Laurie Garden in downtown Chicago: http://www.luriegarden.org/education-events).

When she’s not collecting data on green roofs, writing, analyzing data or performing experiments in the lab, she likes traveling to visit friends and discover new places, gardening with edible and native plants, exploring new restaurants and breweries in Chicago and experimenting in the kitchen.

October 19th 2015 – Jennifer Robison, Indiana University

Jennifer RobisonHi! I’m Jen, a PhD candidate in biology studying cold stress in soybeans. I have been studying autotrophs practically my entire biology career (except for one random summer interning with Diver’s Alert Network, ah, youth). My MSc focused on the effect of heat and light stress on zooxanthellae, the symbiotic algae found inside corals. And even during my bachelors, I investigated the cold requirements for germination and flowering in 2 invasive wildflower species. The techniques and species I’ve used have been different but the overall theme has been how do abiotic factors impact plants? That’s the main question we’ll grapple with this week on @Biotweeps!

Beyond my passion for plants, I love education and outreach. One of my best educational guinea pigs is my 8yo son! I enjoy making videos for his class to introduce topics and taking microscopes and other activities to his class or Cub Scout troop. Being a science Mom can be challenging, but it is possible. Hopefully we’ll have some time this week to discuss finding success as a #SciMom

27th April 2015 – Emilie Champagne, Université Laval

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m a Ph.D. student in biology at Université Laval, Québec (Canada) and my thing is plant-herbivore relationships. You might not know that yet, but plant-herbivore is one of the coolest and most important ecological interactions. In many systems, it shapes the structure, composition and functions of the ecosystems! From my master degree, where I studied plant compensatory abilities (regrowth following herbivory) to my Ph.D., I’ve been fascinated by those interactions. In my current research, I look at how plant’s neighbors can influence their susceptibility to herbivory, a process called associational effects. As herbivores select their resource hierarchically, I want to know how associational effects will vary with spatial scales. You can find a description of my various projects on my former and current research group. You might notice that I’m from a large herbivore background, but you can also ask me question about insect herbivory.

So what can you expect in my biotweeps week?

  • Cool stuff about plant-herbivore relationships: how plant resist or tolerate herbivory, herbivore’s selection process, associational effects (of course!), alternative stable states.
  • Engaging discussions about life as a graduate student, open science, women in science.
  • Touching stories about how it is to do science in another language then English, fieldwork in wonderful location (Deception Bay and Anticosti Island!)…
  • Fun

You can find me and my frequent list in my blog (mostly in French, sometimes in English), on twitter, and also Research Gate, stack exchange…so many ways to procrastinate!

March 23rd 2015 – Tom Kimmerer, Venerable Trees, Inc.

fall colors at Kentucky Horse ParkI am a tree physiologist and forest scientist, and Chief Scientist at the nonprofit Venerable Trees, which is dedicated to the conservation of ancient trees. My research background is in the biochemistry of trees and plant-animal interactions. I am also  a writer and photographer. My first book, Venerable Trees: History, Biology, and Conservation in the Bluegrass will be published this year and my second book will be out in 2016.  I have a BS in Forest Biology from SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry and a PhD in both forestry and botany from the University of Wisconsin Madison.  I was on the faculty at the University of Kentucky,  Universiti Putra Malaysia, and Universitas Tanjungpura Indonesia. I have lectured on tree physiology, urban forestry  and renewable energy throughout North America, Indonesia and Malaysia. I am a Fulbright Scholar, and a member of AAAS and the American Society of Plant Biologists. In recent years, I have been a consultant on renewable energy projects that use wood as a feedstock.  In 2015 and 2016, in addition to my work and writing, I am helping to organize a celebration of the sesquicentennial of  Thomas Hunt Morgan the Nobel Laureate and a seminal figure in modern biology.  The strangest thing I have ever done as a scientist was to use an alcohol breathalyzer on trees.
I write for Planet Experts and Venerable Trees . and post samples of my photographs at  The Lives of Trees. Links to all my work are at kimmerer.com.  You can reach me by email (tom at venerabletrees dot org), twitter @venerabletrees and  on Facebook at  kimmerer and venerabletrees.