Tell me about your research.
I am intensely curious about how cells recognize one another in specific ways and how they make “decisions” about whether to respond to that recognition. This is a fundamental question in biology. One of the most exciting things we’ve found is that the very same networks thought to operate in mammalian (including human) immune cell activation are also operating in sea urchin eggs. I am just obsessed now with thinking about what this means for cellular recognition and one time signaling decisions – are these networks deeply evolutionarily conserved and then co-opted for different decision making uses that require fine tuning? How is it that these networks are particularly discriminating and tunable?
How have research methods changed since you began as a researcher to now?
The technology has changed rapidly. High resolution microscopy, cloning genes, and real-time imaging methods show that cells are very connected and watching them in real-time gives us tremendous insight.
What brought you to UCSB?
Even 20 years ago, it was clear that the strength of UCSB was the ability to collaborate with colleagues across departments and disciplines. The Organized Research Unit (ORU) model was very attractive to me and I also knew that computational and systems approaches to biological questions were on the event horizon. Although I could in theory use marine invertebrates anywhere, it sure is nice to have the Marine Lab and the resources on the main campus. Another big draw for me was that I was looking for a strong research university that remained committed to undergraduate education.
What did you study in undergraduate and graduate school?
I started out as an English major and accidently found my way into Biology by signing up for the wrong class. The professor in that class taught cell biology from the angle of what we did not know and how to think about asking questions and problem solving. Science had never been presented that way to me before, and I was hooked. In graduate school at Purdue University, I studied the mechanism of cell division in a lot of different contexts. I developed my interest in recognition and cellular signaling in my postdoc.
Were you involved in research as an undergraduate?
YES! And it is why I am committed to giving that opportunity to undergraduates. It was a daunting at first, but I fell in love with the process of scientific inquiry – you fail a lot, but when you make progress, it is an intoxicating feeling.
What made you want to become a professor?
As a first in family college student, I had no clue what I was doing. It was through some luck and finding a few good mentors that I even considered graduate school. My PhD adviser, David Asai, was instrumental in helping me figure out how to use my PhD. It may sound corny, but I really wanted to give back and being a professor seemed like a good way to feed my curiosity and also contribute. I don’t feel like I ever really work – I love doing science and teaching. I also like being surrounded by really bright, hard working people. The students and my colleagues amaze me.
What is your role within your department?
I have been involved a lot lately with our MCD Biology grad program. I enjoy talking with graduate students and helping them navigate through the advanced degree. I particularly like sitting on thesis committees because I learn so much. Right now, I am serving as the Interim Dean in the College of Creative Studies. This role has pushed me to grow and learn in new ways that I never imagined. Working with undergraduates who are really deeply immersed in their chosen field is exciting and I’ve also enjoyed learning about the bigger picture of the university.
What is something you are proud of accomplishing as a professor?
Well, I have made a few exciting (to me) discoveries, but I think my main accomplishments have been in mentoring and training the next generation of young scientists. It’s very rewarding to hear from a former student that they are doing well in their chosen field and that maybe, just maybe, you contributed to that.
How did you first become involved in CSEP?
Gosh, I can’t even remember. I think I probably had a student in one of the programs and then I got invited to do a few grad workshops and we worked together on a few proposals for undergraduate science education programs – it just grew from there. The CSEP folks are an amazing group of talented, dedicated individuals.
What value has being involved with CSEP brought to you both professionally and personally?
I have learned a lot from the CSEP staff about how to mentor students and how to think about designing programs that really support students, not just attract students.
Has CSEP been a partner on any of your proposals?
I’ve worked with CSEP on several proposals, such as Beckman Scholars and NIH MARC USTAR. Arica Lubin has worked extensively with me to develop a course, Science for the Common Good, as part of this. I have really enjoyed developing this class and working with both Arica and the students is a joy.
What is the most rewarding part about mentoring and training students through programs that aim to encourage a diverse group of students to become scientists and engineers?
The CSEP programs are about much more than just getting students into labs and generating data – communicating results, working as a team and individually, and goal setting are integrated into their programs. This is such an important aspect of training.
What is something you do for fun?
My favorite thing is to spend down time with my kids and husband. I grew up on a small family dairy farm. I am a voracious reader, love music, and am a mountaineer/backpacker. Backpacking, particularly at high altitude, in fact, is how I re-boot my brain.