Location: Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
Current job/title: Director of Plant Systems Biology
Favorite thing you do at work: Learn
Favorite plant: Arabidopsis (boring I know, but the more I study it, the more interesting it gets),or, due to a recent visit to southern California, the Joshua Tree.
One interesting project you have been working on: I’m fascinated by the plant cell wall. Humans rely on it for so much (fabric, paper, fuel, animal feed, fiber), and it’s critical to plant cell function. We’re working to engineer the cell wall so that it’s a better feedstock for biofuel production, without making a sick plant.
What is your workspace setup like?: I’m now almost entirely office based, so I have 3 monitors and a laptop dock. My office lacks windows, so I have some long-suffering succulent plants – the only species that have survived so far. My wall is gradually filling with various images of plants including Robert Hooke’s cork (cell walls!) and some of the fabulous glass botany teaching aids I saw in the Harvard natural history museum last year (http://hmnh.harvard.edu/glass-flowers).
What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever received?: Take the next step before you think you’re ready. I was waiting to get enough papers before I applied for faculty positions. An excellent mentor pointed out that (1) you will never feel you have enough and (2) you need feedback from the application/rejection cycle, so that when the perfect job is advertised, you write the best application/give the best interview talk you could. Your best is not going to be the first one you do.
If a magical scientific genie appeared from an erlenmeyer flask in your lab, what would you ask for?: Faster growing plants! The microbiologists at JBEI can’t believe how we cope with the generation times.
What have been the biggest productivity tools you’ve been using either for a long time or recently adopted? – Google Calendar. In particular, I block out time for writing, especially near deadlines. Our whole organization has access, so they can check to see when you’re free.
What do you spend time thinking about that’s not your next proposal, publication, or project deadline?: I started my research group 18 months ago. The transition from postdoc to PI is pretty daunting. I’m spending a lot of time thinking about my group, ensuring that everyone is happy, and that I’m being the best facilitator I can be. I’m also thinking about out how to work within the national lab environment (which is quite different from a university) and build my network.
How do you learn new things?: Listening. I’m fortunate that I have access to experts in so many different fields – free seminars on campus, online talks, podcasts and conferences. You can’t beat listening to someone who’s enthusiastic about their topic.
Music, silence, white noise – what works for you?: Music! Electronica, blues, funk, whatever – Spotify is great. Cricket commentary is also a favourite choice, although I haven’t been able to get TMS [editor’s note: a BBC broadcast] since I moved to the USA…
What do you do when the pipette is down and the computer is powered off?: Exploring. Science means that you often move, so once again I find myself in a new place (California) where there is so much to do, especially outdoors. Two years ago I was in Japan, and before that the UK, so there’s been some big changes!
If you’re OK sharing, what’s one way readers can get in touch or follow along with your work (email, blog, twitter, etc.) –
Tag who’s next. I’d love to see Alex Webb answer these questions or Mat Lewsey who I did my undergrad with in Bristol, my PhD with in Cambridge and he’s now a postdoc at the Salk, but he’s starting his own group in Australia next month.