12th August 2019 – Katherine James, Natural History Museum

Katherine James_3Hi, I’m Katherine and I’m currently Bioinformatics Manager at the Natural History Museum in London.  In November, I will be moving to Northumbia University as Vice Chancellors Fellow in Bioinformatics.  My research focuses on the analysis and systematic integration of largescale omics data and the development of approaches for the analysis of next generation sequencing data, with a focus on evolutionary genetics.

I originally studied Molecular Biology as an undergraduate at Newcastle but, due to a lack of jobs in the area at the time and following a disappointing third year project, I spent the next few years outside of science: managing a pub and restaurant (great fun, poor pay), and then working as an administrator for the Civil Service (better pay, mind-numbingly boring).

Eventually my love of biology and computing science led me back to Newcastle to the, then relatively new, MRes Bioinformatics course. I subsequently stayed to do a PhD in Computing Science (during which I was lucky enough to be one of the first Computing Science PhDs in the UK to do laboratory work during my project). As a Post-Doc I worked on a diverse range of project; from data analysis to software and algorithm development, and involving yeast, human and bacterial data, before moving to London to join the NHM.

My current research is very different from the classic “model-organism“-oriented work earlier in my career, and I often refer to it as “I’m a bioinformatician, get me out of here!”  If it has DNA, then we want to sequence it; I work with sharks, whales, scallops, tapeworms and a whole host of other invertebrate species. This week I’m looking forward to talking about the changes in bioinformatics over the last few years, and the challenges ahead as we apply bioinformatics algorithms to more diverse species.

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3rd June 2019 – Maiko Kitaoka, University of California, Berkeley

Version 3Hi everyone! I’m Maiko Kitaoka, and I’m a PhD student in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley (USA). I study mechanisms of chromosome mis-segregation using various species of Xenopus frogs and particularly chromosome loss in inviable Xenopus hybrids. My thesis project combines cell biological mechanisms and genomics in a unique evolutionary context, making it both interdisciplinary and exciting for this self-proclaimed cell cycle/cell division and microscopy nerd! Previously, I completed my undergraduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where my research focused on the cell biology of developmental cell cycle transitions in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster.

In addition to my research, I’m really passionate about improving academic science to make it more generous and accessible to all. Science is difficult enough at the bench, so every other aspect (career progression/trajectory, publishing, collaborations, communication, etc) should be as open and kind and positive as possible. To this end, I’ve recently become an eLife Ambassador where I hope to contribute to specific initiatives to aid in reproducibility, open-access publishing, and improving the daily “life of a scientist” (whatever that means to you). I also contribute regularly to preLights, an initiative by the Company of Biologists to highlight new and cool bioRxiv preprints in an effort to speed up the availability of scientific information and discovery.

Some fun facts about me: I was previously a pre-professional ballet dancer with American Ballet Theatre in NYC before discovering science at MIT, so you can often find me pirouetting around the bench doing my experiments these days (to my lab’s amusement). I know many Broadway musicals by heart (perhaps to my labmates’ annoyance), read voraciously, and believe that laughter and sunshine and love is the best medicine for anything. I dream about (in no particular order) writing my own book, starring in a Broadway production, owning a book café, and making it as a scientist and changing science for the better.

I’m really looking forward to taking over the @Biotweeps account for the week, and I hope you enjoy this peek into my life as a graduate student scientist! There will be frogs, mitotic spindles, sunshine, and more! Follow me on Twitter (@MaikoKitaoka) and Instagram (@maikokitaoka) for more insights into my life as a PhD student, frog wrangler, bookworm, and weird human being. Check out my website to learn more about me, my research, etc, and follow my blog for more of my personal thoughts about graduate school, #scicomm, and the state of science.

Website: https://maikokitaoka.wordpress.com/
Blog: https://maikokitaoka.wordpress.com/blog/
preLights: https://prelights.biologists.com/profiles/mkitaoka/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaikoKitaoka
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/maikokitaoka/

11th March 2019 – Hannah Brazeau, University of New Brunswick

Hannah Brazeau_2019I am a MSc student at the University of New Brunswick (Fredericton, NB, Canada) studying the effects of interspecific competition on pollinator-mediated selection of floral traits. More specifically, my thesis project uses fireweed to look at how floral traits associated with attraction of pollinators (such as floral scent) can change when an unrelated, highly attractiveplant species is growing nearby. This project allows me to combine concepts and methods used in plant community ecology, plant-pollinator interactions, and floral evolutionary biology, with a dash of chemistry thrown in for good measure.

Before starting my masters in Dr. Amy Parachnowitsch’s lab (@EvoEcoAmy on twitter), I completed my BSc in Biology at Algoma University (Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada). While at Algoma University, I completed an honours thesis on co-occurrence patterns and temporal stability in an old-field plant community under the supervision of Dr. Brandon Schamp (who now co-supervises my masters project). Prior to my BSc, I completed a three-year diploma in biotechnology at St. Lawrence College (Kingston, ON, Canada).

I’m a first generation student and particularly passionate about improving learning and research experiences for undergraduates, as well as communicating science through art. This will be my second time hosting Biotweeps, (previously hosted as @moietymouse) and I’m looking forward to talking to you all again!

4th March 2019 – Patrick Kennedy, University of Bristol

Patrick KennedyI’m a postdoc at the University of Bristol, working on the evolution of animal conflict and cooperation – based in the brilliant lab group led by Professor Andy Radford. I recently finished my PhD, which explored the evolution of altruism (organisms helping others at a personal cost) in South American paper wasps. I focused on a mysterious paradox in social insect biology, and spent my PhD enthusiastically sticking tiny radio-tags to wasps in Panama, French Guiana, and Brazil. As a result, I’ve been thoroughly stung in the name of science. I’ll be biotweeping about the strange world of animal cooperation. Why do we seem to find cooperation everywhere we look, from social bacteria in the gut to elephants on the savannah to the trillions of hard-working cells that make up our bodies?

The enigma of where cooperation comes from has baffled biologists for 150 years – ever since Darwin struggled with the mystery in The Origin of Species. Those 150 years have been filled with a host of exotic characters boldly announcing their own evolutionary solutions – including legions of entomologists, game theorists, political scientists, the occasional sinister eugenicist, people doing dubious things with dolphins, and even one prison-breaking anarchist Russian prince. The controversy got so heated in the 70s that angry communists poured a bucket of water over the head of the world’s leading ant biologist mid-way through a lecture. However, the product of this intense and often acrimonious scientific debate has been the rise of a solid modern understanding of the key principles in the evolution of cooperation. Today, biologists have a spectacular general theory of cooperation. Even so, the debate is far from over, and a number of major riddles about the evolution of cooperation remain to solved…

18th February 2019 – Kannan Raja, Bangor University

Kannan RajaKannan Raja is a postgraduate researcher/ MscRes student at Bangor University, working on the teeth morphology and the hunting and feeding ecologies of Panthera species. Previously he completed his undergraduate degree, also at Bangor University, where he looked at the prey preferences of mountain lions for his final dissertation. Prior to his time at the university,, Kannan undertook a three-year diploma course in Biotechnology at Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore.

Although many of his projects so far are centred around large felids, dinosaurs are his favourite animal group. He is also passionate about the natural world and evolution in animals under the influence of humans. Kannan is an ‘all-over-place’ sort of biologist, with his interests shifting over the years from various disciplines. However, the ecology of large carnivores seems to be the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ for him. For now.

With the completion of his MScRes, Kannan hopes to gain a career in the field of conservation, and eventually/hopefully, a PhD is not too far off in the future for him.

Aside from facing off with ferocious big cat skulls, Kannan is often found shoving cool (but random) dinosaur facts in the faces of his weary friends, or engaging them in a discussion/debate over lunch about a new discovery or an interesting question that may have crossed his mind.

25th June 2018 – Lewis Bartlett, University of Exeter & University of California Berkeley

Lewis BartlettI’m Lewis – a PhD researcher at University of Exeter, and a visiting researcher at University of California Berkeley. I’m also in collaboration with the University of Georgia (USA), Emory University (USA), and Heriot-Watt University (UK).

My work is currently focussed on better understanding the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, current declines of both domestic and wild bees, and the relationships between the two. I’m a huge bee enthusiast – and teach / certify beekeepers as part of my work. Speaking with beekeepers is a big part of what I do – and necessitates a different understanding of science communication compared to public outreach. Prior to bees and diseases, I worked on ice-age extinctions, habitat fragmentation, and arguably the world’s most ambitious ecological simulation. My research dips into a massive variety of techniques – from the field to the lab to statistics to differential equation modelling.

Doing research and holding positions in two different continents has given me a two-point perspective on the lives of PhD researchers, and the differences are pretty profound. There’s things to be learnt from all systems.

As far as non-research academic activities go, I count teaching and learning as a big part of my interests – both at the school and University levels. Comparing approaches to university teaching between Britain and the US has been an eye-opening experience. In particular, teaching quantitative skills & programming is a devotion of mine (for better or for worse!).

Understanding access, diversity, and inclusion in ecology is also a topic close to my heart (as both a first-generation, working class university graduate and a ragingly flamboyant gay man). Seeing again how these issues differ between the UK and the US is remarkable in approaches and nuance.

Expect hot-takes on bees, on diseases, on outreach, teaching, and moving around as part of academic ecology in this week’s Biotweeps coverage – probably punctuated with makeup, nail polish, and countless examples of how bees and other insects influence art & fashion.

28th May 2018 – Sabah Ul-Hasan, UC Merced

Sabah Ul-HasanSabah Ul-Hasan is a Quantitative & Systems Biology PhD Candidate at the University of California, Merced advised under Dr. Tanja Woyke at the Joint Genome Institute. Sabah‘s educational background stems from three B.S. degrees in Biologevy, Chemistry, and Sustainability & Environmental Studies from the University of Utah and an M.S. in Biochemistry from the University of New Hampshire. Sabah‘s thesis work focuses on venomous host-microbe interactions with the California cone snail serving as a model system. In addition to Sabah‘s interests in coevolution, venomics, and marine ecosystems, Sabah holds a passion for science communication and spearheads an array of organizations from The Biota Project (@thebiotaproject), an after-school STEM workshop high school students, and a data science graduate student group. Sabah intends to pursue a data scientist position post PhD, with special attention to intersectionality and open access.

This week we’ll be discussing venomous animals. What constitutes a venomous animal? Is there a difference between venomous and poisonous animals? What is the scientific history of venoms and who are the main groups studying venoms today? We’ll then bring up some big topics in the current field of microbiology and draw connections between these two realms.

Are you working on venomous animals with an interest to pursue their associated microbiomes, and/or know someone who is doing that kind of work? If so, send a personal message to Sabah to partake in the venomous host-microbe consortium. The aim of the consortium is to build a collaborative network of scientists for establishing a strong foundation in big data and associated resources. For example, why throw the rest of that snake tissue away when someone else on the other side of the world can use a section of it and perhaps find out something interesting and new too?!

Let’s use communication, collaboration, and citizen science make science great again together!