17th June 2019 – Heather Slinn, University of Guelph

Heather SlinnI’m a PhD candidate in Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. My PhD research is interdisciplinary and spans microbiology, bioinformatics (analyzing biological data, for e.g. DNA sequences, using computer science), ecology and chemistry – where I often work collaboratively with chemists. My specialty lies in how plants, fungi and insects interact with one another in tropical ecosystems. I ask questions like; how does plant chemistry affect other organisms in the community? And, what variables are important for determining which fungi colonize the interior of leaves (termed fungal endophytes)? More recently, I’m working on a project that looks at whether digestion of seeds by bats influence fungi the colonize seeds and improve seed germination. This fall, I’ll be going to Brazil to work with a chemist on how these fungal endophytes contribute to the chemistry in plants. You might be wondering, why are these questions important? My work aims to contribute to our understanding of how species interact with one another in a highly diverse and complex ecosystem. This is especially important because of the decline in species diversity in the tropics, due to factors such as deforestation and climate change. There are also potential applications for agriculture, through how plants may defend themselves against enemies and pharmacy by discovering new compounds which may have properties to combat human diseases.

Part of the fun of being a tropical ecologist, is getting to travel to different sites and comparing the answers to our research questions. During my PhD, I’ve conducted research in the lowland rainforests of Costa Rica and the cloud forests of the Andes in Ecuador. These research trips can last anywhere between 1 week to 4 months. I enjoy exploring new places, learning new languages, eating tasty food and drinking the local beers and wines. So, this type of work agrees with me. However, when in Guelph, you can find me tending to my balcony garden, meeting with the Guelph chapter of a women in STEM organization and running in the trails. I hope you enjoy my week on @biotweeps.

Find out more about me and my work here:

Scholar: https://scholar.google.ca/citations?user=slaTV_UAAAAJ&hl=en
Website: http://www.heatherslinn.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/h_slinn


24th September 2018 – Aileen Baird, University of Birmingham, Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (funded by NERC through DREAM CDT)

Aileen BairdHi Biotweeps! I’m Aileen, and I’m just entering the 2nd year of my PhD at the University of Birmingham funded under the NERC DREAM CDT. Prior to my PhD, I studied for an MSci in Human Biology, also at the University of Birmingham. During my degree, I realised that microbiology was my real passion, and actually, I was more interested in environmental microbes than microbes in humans! My interest is primarily in fungi: notoriously under-loved and under-studied. So prepare yourselves for a week of me waxing lyrical about the wonderful world of fungi…

My research is on temperate forest fungi and how these fungi are affected by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the air. Due to climate change, we can expect that carbon dioxide concentrations in the air will continue to rise for a number of years, and it is really important to understand how forests will response to this changing planet.

I work at the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) Free Air Carbon Enrichment (FACE) experiment. At our Mill Haft site in Staffordshire we have a unique set up, with 30m high towers forming rings around areas of the forest. These towers spray out extra carbon dioxide into areas of the forest, mimicking what carbon dioxide concentrations we will have in the air in about 2070.

This is an amazing experiment which offers a large number of researchers (including me!) an incredible resource to study how forest ecosystems are affected by climate change. Fungi are really important in forest ecosystems in particular, playing roles in: decomposition, as pathogens (diseases) on plants and in humans, and even on plant roots delivering extra nutrients to plants. Fungi can have a significant impact on the forest ecosystem, so in order to understand how the forest as a whole responds to carbon dioxide, we need to understand how the fungi respond.

Outside of my mushroom-bothering day job, I love to cycle and explore the wonderful countryside we have in the West Midlands! I also work part-time for the Brilliant Club, an organisation which places doctoral researchers and post-docs in schools to deliver university-style tutorials to students from ages 8-18. The aim is to not give the students an experience of studying in university style, on a subject outside of the curriculum- with the end goal of increasing entry of students from under-represented backgrounds into top universities.

I look forward to chatting to you on Twitter this week!


Twitter: @alienbaird

13th August 2018 – Danny Haelewaters, University of South Bohemia

Danny HaelewatersFrom when I was able to utter my first few words as a baby I wanted to become a veterinary scientist, but you know how things go in life. So … I became an assistant-salesman, an all-rounder at a hotel and even the running manager of a bed and breakfast in the rural South of France. However, the science was never too far away – it’s in my blood – so meanwhile I became a biologist and earlier this year I graduated from Harvard University with a PhD in organismic and evolutionary biology. Speaking about some change!

These days I am a postdoctoral researcher, currently at the University of South Bohemia (Czech Republic) and starting November 2018 at Purdue University. I am a mycologist, with interest in phylogenetic relationships and associations with other organisms. My PhD research at Harvard University focused on Laboulbeniomycetes biotrophic fungi. I worked on resolving phylogenetic relationships and patterns of speciation. As a postdoc in the Czech Republic I continue my work with “labouls” but I also work on a project on parasitoid wasps that are natural enemies of ladybirds. At Purdue, I will characterize fungal microbes associated with romaine lettuce through a combination of experimental and next-generation sequencing techniques. A lot of diverse projects, and I haven’t even mentioned my interest in Leotiomycetes fungi.

I have a wife and daughter (Luna, almost 2) but I identify as bisexual. I have had relationships with guys and have no problem talking about this with LGBT+ or straight/gender-conforming people. I care about diversity a lot. We founded the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the Mycological Society of America, which I chaired this past year. This Committee organized a symposium “Boosting Diversity in Mycology” at the International Mycological Congress in Puerto Rico, focusing on contemporary issues such as (lack of) diversity, LGBT+ in STEM fields, and unconscious bias

18th April 2016 -Jen McDonald, Western University

Jen McDonaldI started my MSc at Western University (back when it was the University of Western Ontario!) in September 2007. In 2009, I rolled up to a PhD, and graduated in August 2015. When I finished my undergrad degree at McMaster University, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life (I still wonder if I know what I want to do with the rest of my life…) so I applied to both teacher’s college and graduate school. I was rejected at every teacher’s college I applied to, but accepted to grad school…so I guess that made that decision easy! I chose my supervisor, Dr. Greg Thorn, based on how cool is previous grad students’ projects sounded: many of them did work in Costa Rica, and it was my dream to travel somewhere exotic for field work! Joke’s on me; I still have never been to Costa Rica, and my field work was all done in Ontario. For my PhD thesis I studied the systematics of an obscure group of fungi, comparing morphologial and molecular methods of identifying species. I found out that, while morphology may be informative for some species, there’s an enormous amount of morphological variation in other species. Geography and host or substrate might also be informative for some species (some are highly host- and location-specific), while others are generalists that are truly cosmopolitan (one species occurs on five continents across temperate and tropical forest ecosystems) or have been collected on twenty different species. I managed to describe a few (OK, to toot my own horn: 18) new species from herbarium collections, fresh collections from my field work, fresh collections mailed to me from around the world, and culture collections.

During my degree I rekindled my passion for teaching and became heavily involved in curriculum mapping, course development, and teaching pedagogy. I now have a contract in partnership between Nelson Publishing and Western U to implement new teaching and learning technologies into our massive first year biology course (about 1800 students across 2 different courses).

While in grad school I also taught myself how to knit, and I work part-time in a yarn store. So Twitter beware: I’ll probably be tweeting about my knitting!