About me:

Undergrad at Drexel University

I was not always fascinated by the natural world. As a kid, I'd play outside for hours and hours but I never noticed nature's beauty. This continued through college (Drexel University) until I took an Evolution course (with an awesome professor!) that helped me appreciate biological diversity and how evolutionary processes can shape that diversity. In this course, I learned: how some species are more altruistic towards relatives than strangers because they receive indirect fitness benefits, how male peacocks are showy because of female preferences, how one of Earth's largest experiments in body plans was during the Cambrian explosion, how we can visualize diversity through phylogenetic trees, and how genes trees can go through births and extinctions just like species tree, how we(tetrapods) are all fish! Up until this point, I was used to learning about the intricate molecular pathways that underly the characteristics of cells, which I found fascinating too. I knew I was destined for a lifetime of learning all of life's intricacies which led me to this problem: What area did I want to pursue for my PhD?


Working life

Before deciding on a PhD program, I worked a few years so I could think about my research interests. In the biotech industry, I learned how to clone genes and express it in a cell lines with the goal to develop an anti-bioterror agent for one project, and another one focused on developing a therapy for acute myeloid leukemia. I got to play with cool machines such as a fluorescence activated cell sorter! Basically, you can shoot lazers at cells and you can tell the machine to separate it out. Although I enjoyed my job, I was still fascinated by the larger evolutionary story which was missing in my daily life. And then I thought, why not combine my interests with my existing skill sets? I wanted a good study system where I could learn as much biology as possible from the genes to ecosystems.


To graduate school

It turns out, ants are a good model to explore almost all questions in biology from genes to ecosystems because many genomes are now available, they're social, and they play important roles ecosystems. I only realized this fact when the first ant genomes were published in 2009 which made ants an emerging model to understand complex social behavior at the molecular level. This paper (as well as subsequent ant genome papers) and reading Alex Wild's blog, which showed me a lot of cool things that ants do, led me to explore them in nature. I began to bait for ants to see which kinds showed up. Why were some kinds in certain places and not others? I looked at them under the scope and entered a whole new world! Nature does exist outside a test tube. :-)

University of Vermont, Department of Biology

After 5.5 years, I've completed my dissertation (2017-03-29) at the University of Vermont! My thesis was entitled: Evolutionary Innovations in Ants to Thermally Stressful Environments. For this work, I focused on how temperature acts as a selective force on ant characteristics from where they live (abundance and distribution) to how they function at the physiological and molecular level.