19th July 2017 – Goutham Radha, Howard University

Goutham RadhaEver considered why you choose the field that you chose? The very first time I saw rectus abdominis contracting in frog’s ringers attached to lever and a smoked Sherrington drum, I was awestruck. That is when I realized why I chose scientific research as my career. I worked on several research projects in Pharmacology during my Bachelors. It is during that time that I learned what it takes to do research.

After my Bachelors in Pharmacy, I worked towards a Masters in Cell and Molecular Biology. I worked in a lab working on Neurological Effects of HIV-1. Though a lot is established about what HIV-1 does in the peripheral body, we do not have much information about what it does in the brain. The virus can cross the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) and infect astrocytes, replicate and cause a latent infection. What worsens the condition, is that the Antireterovirals, do not cross the BBB, and hence the virus in brain is not affected. I used several methods in the lab to ascertain the effects of some of the viral proteins in astrocytes.

Currently, I’m working in a research lab at Howard University, in Washington, DC. The lab’s focus is to understand the pathology of Breast cancer. Aside from my research, I’m a Photographer and I love it. I have an almost active Instagram account and a website (which is still in progress, typical researcher, right?). Recently, I started playing Ultimate Frisbee and I absolutely love it. I try to stay active, run, workout, and Science!

12th June 2017 – Angela Watkins, Welsh Government

Angela WatkinsHi Biotweeps!

I’m currently a civil servant with the Welsh Government, working as Biodiversity Policy Officer in our Land, Nature and Forestry team. I’ve been a civil servant for the last nearly 3 years after having completed my PhD at the University of Southampton in 2014. My role mainly involves developing and delivering biodiversity and nature policy and evidence across Wales and supporting others to do the same.  I’ll hopefully be able to share a bit of insight into what this means during my week ‘(wo)manning’ the Biotweeps account.

A bit of background about me: My PhD was in the field of computational ecology, but I actually completed an integrated PhD as part of the Institute of Complex Systems Simulation, so I don’t have an easy answer when people ask me what my PhD is in! Normally depending on the questioner I’ll either say ecology, or complexity and ecology. In a nutshell, my research involved using complex systems theory to develop a model(s) that could test questions about the relationship between landscape ecology (i.e. connectivity) and species persistence and movement in that landscape. To make this sound cooler, I essentially studied the way that jaguars moved around a fragmented habitat in central Belize. I’ll explain a bit more about this too if you are interested!

My main research interests lie in landscape ecology and resilience, (but will broaden to agent-based modelling, conservation, population ecology) but I am keen to link this with real, direct, on the ground policy decisions and implementation. How can we use our theoretical knowledge to deliver real change in terms of conserving and enhancing our biodiversity?

I’m also a wife and mother of two young girls aged (almost) 5 and 15 months, a passionate feminist and promoter of #womeninscience, naturally. Normally I can be found on twitter @ecologywatkins.

5th June 2017 – Michelle Rodrigues, University of Illinois

Michelle RodriguesHi Biotweeps!

I am a primatologist/biological anthropologist interested in social relationships and how they help us deal with life’s stressors. My research centers around the tend-and-befriend hypothesis, which proposes that female friendship evolved as a primate-wide strategy to cope with stressors.  Additionally, some of my past and current research addresses the development of social relationship during juvenility and adolescence, and how it helps prepare for adult challenges.

Most of my graduate research was conducted at El Zota Biological Field Station, Costa Rica, with a little help from the spider monkeys at Brookfield Zoo, IL.  I did my Master’s at Iowa State University, where I studied the emergence of sex-segregated social patterns in juvenile spider monkeys. I completed my PhD at Ohio State University, focusing on female social relationships and stress in adult female spider monkeys to test the tend-and-befriend hypothesis.

My fieldwork experience includes research on howler monkeys in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, free-ranging rhesus monkeys at Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico, and gorillas and chimpanzees in Cameroon. I’ve also studied captive chimpanzees at the North Carolina Zoo, bonobos at the Columbus Zoo, and spider monkeys, big cats, and pachyderms at Brookfield Zoo.

Currently, I am studying a new focal species, humans! After stints as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Wake Forest University and online teaching with Eastern Kentucky University, I began a postdoc in the Laboratory of Evolutionary Endocrinology at the University of Illinois. With Kate Clancy, I am working on projects examining female friendship, stress, and depression in teenage girls, and how female friendship and social networks mediate workplaces stressors in female scientists of color. Along with my postdoc, I am also completing a certificate in Science Communication.

I’m also very interested in interspecies friendship, and my best friends are my cat and dog! I also met some of my best human friends through running. Last year I ran a half marathon and 25k, and this year I am attempting to train for the Chicago Marathon (although my injuries may have other plans). You can find me on twitter @MARspidermonkey, and read my blog posts at spidermonkeytales.blogspot.com  and http://lee-anthro.blogspot.com/

29th May 2017 – Rutger Vos, Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Rutger VosMy name is Rutger Vos, and I am computational evolutionary biologist at the natural history museum of the Netherlands, Naturalis. My educational background is in evolutionary biology, most especially in phylogenetics, i.e. the field of biology that concerns itself with researching the Tree of Life. For my PhD research, it became clear that I needed to handle amounts of tree and alignment data that were unmanageable to do ‘by hand’ on a normal computer, so I taught myself programming and how to use high-performance computing systems.
One thing led to another and I ended up doing my postdocs as a contributor to various infrastructures having to do with phylogenetics, most notably the CIPRES (http://www.phylo.org) project and TreeBASE (http://www.treebase.org) – but also projects having to do with data standards and data sharing in biology. ‘Open Science’, basically.
Meanwhile, the high-throughput DNA sequencing (NGS) revolution was starting to spit out more and more genomes, with which I started to play around. So much so that by the time Naturalis started looking for a bioinformatician to contribute to the NGS projects that were going on over there I could plausibly apply for a position.
At Naturalis I’ve become involved in a lot of different projects, all of which have bioinformatics or computational biology in common but are otherwise very broad-ranging. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to work with many of the kinds of data, information and knowledge that circulate in a natural history museum. For example, apart from DNA I’m also analyzing image data from our specimen digitization efforts, scanned texts, and species traits and distributions.
On Twitter (@rvosa) I let out my interest in ‘unnatural history’. It’s a totally vague term that I’ve adopted to look at and talk about the cultural ways in which we interact with nature. I mean things like art about nature; the way we, biologists, do science about nature; how we as a species are colliding with biodiversity because of our actions. By the way, I later found out there’s also a book called ‘Unnatural History’. I haven’t read it but it looks neat and it looks like it’s partly about the same topic.

22nd May 2017 – Seth Barribeau, University of Liverpool

I’m an evolutionary ecologist who largely works on understanding how insects are able to do complicated things with what is generally considered a ‘simple’ immune system. Spoiler: it’s not that simple. I am fond of most animals, with the noticeable exceptions of ostriches (they have cruel, dead, eyes) and locusts (a childhood incident). I started out studying the what predisposes tadpoles to infection as a graduate student in New Zealand, and after a brief stint catching snakes, teaching English, and proof reading medical articles in Japan, moved on to studying aphids and fungus-growing ants at Emory University, and then bumblebees at the ETH in Zürich. After studying and postdoc-ing in several countries I recently started a position as the lecturer for eco-immunology at the Institute of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool.
My recent research has explored why aphids have a pretty rubbish immune system, why the costs of mounting an immune response differ among individuals, how diet influences the expression of immunity, how bumblebees respond differently to different genotypes of a common parasite, what makes immune memory, what does sociality do to the evolution of the immune system, and, most importantly, was Marvin Gaye right? Is there such a thing as sexual healing?

15th May 2017 – Melissa Marquez, T he Fins United Initiative

Melissa MarquezA proud #LatinainSTEM, Melissa C. Marquez is a marine biologist who focuses on shark habitat use and movements. She recently completed a Master of Science degree looking into habitat use, preference and defining key Chondrichthyan (shark, skate, ray, and chimaera) life history stages. Melissa has also been on a handful of professional discussion panels and spoken at numerous conferences to discuss her research and outreach.
 
The author of three kid books, Marquez is also a dedicated science communicator who focuses on diverse Chondrichthyan education and on the media coverage of sharks. She is the founder of The Fins United Initiative (www.finsunited.co.nz) and has presented to over 10,000 kids, students, and adults about Chondrichthyan biology, ecology, and conservation since its inception. 
 
Originally hailing from San Juan, Puerto Rico, she has moved around the world with her family and to pursue her studies. She is currently living in Wellington, New Zealand and looking worldwide for a PhD opportunity that allows her to understand shark migratory behaviour (why sharks are where they are). You can learn more about her research and qualifications on her website (melissacristinamarquez.weebly.com). 

8th May 2017 – Vicki Tough, Sylvana Alta Ltd

Vicki ToughForest canopies provide some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet. They offer huge potential for research and exploration; however, accessing the high canopy continues to be an obstacle for scientists and researchers wishing to work in these areas. For the last nine years I have worked as a professional climber and abseiler, organising, leading and participating in research expeditions around the world. My focus is on canopy science and the technical methods required to reach high into the treetops.

My increasing interest in the these environments and their flora and fauna was first sparked during the remote rainforest research I undertook in the Ecuadorian Amazon during my Zoology degree at The University of Glasgow. Once graduated, I began work as a tree climbing instructor and industrial abseiler, switching between the botanical and concrete jungles of the world; learning how ropes and rigging can be used to experience, work and explore places at height. Working in these contrasting environments has given me an appreciation and understanding of a range of technical rigging solutions, as well as the importance of teamwork in often challenging conditions.

My current interests lie predominantly within forests, working to develop canopy research projects and assisting scientists in working at height in the tree tops. Advancements in equipment and technical knowledge over the past fifty years have opened up opportunities not only to access, but also to work safely and efficiently in these environments. I aim to bridge the gap between scientific research and working at height by combining these disciplines to develop successful climbing practices for research in forests around the world.

During my curatorial week I will be sharing tales of tree climbing expeditions whilst detailing the highs and lows of practical fieldwork in the treetops. For more information about the work I’m involved in, please take a look at my website www.sylvanaalta.com.  I look forward to talking with you all!