About the department:
I am jointly appointed in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) Department and the Institute for Society and Genetics (ISG) at UCLA. The EEB department has an amazing group of people who think very broadly about so many questions across biology - including a large group that focuses on population genomics in wild populations, which is a core part of what I do. I am equally as excited to be a member of the ISG, which is a very unique institute. My colleagues in the institute include research scientists, historians, doctors, and artists who are all interested the connection between biology and society in a variety of contexts.
About the research:
I am an evolutionary biologist who studies how climate shapes demographic history and adaptation over prehistoric and contemporary time periods. I combine comparative physiology, genomics, field experimentation, and environmental niche modeling to understand how novel environments produce phenotypic and genetic differences between lineages. With these techniques, my current research explores fitness-related traits of wide-ranging species across environmental clines. A major goal of my research is to understand how complex phenotypes respond to anthropogenic climate change. Human modifications to the natural world present extreme and novel environments for many species around the globe, providing contemporary experiments to test hypotheses regarding climate-mediated evolution and adaptation. I believe the study of evolution in response to human-mediated environmental change is key to understanding, predicting and mitigating deleterious effects of such events.
On being a new faculty member:
How do you/will you approach mentoring new lab members?
I don’t have any graduate students or postdocs yet, but I have been thinking a lot about this question. It’s hard realistically to apply any one mentoring strategy to an entire group of scientists. At its core, I think successful mentoring should help to bring out the best of an individual, help them to become the best version of a scientists they can be. Because students and postdocs can have so many different backgrounds, opinions, interests, and skill sets, how you interact and encourage lab members has to be tailor-made for each person. Generally, I hope to build a lab that relies on teamwork and collaborative thinking to pursue collective and individual goals, with each person having the freedom to explore their own interests and flex their creativity under the overarching umbrella of the lab’s scientific missions.
Are you recruiting? If so, how do you/ will you choose new lab members?
I am currently recruiting! I am very excited to get my lab up and running over the next few years, and obviously, the people I choose will be a very important part of that process. Above all, I am looking for curious and excited people who are interested in how climate shapes evolution. I think a strength of my research program is that it relies on many different types of data---niche modeling, physiology, gene expression, genomics, etc.---which means there is plenty of room for people with very different expertise/interests to explore questions in the lab, work together, and expand their respective scientific toolkits.
On SSE membership:
What does becoming a SSE member mean to you or your career?
Joining SSE was certainly one of the best career choices I have made so far. The connections and feedback I have gotten through giving talks, hearing others’ ideas, and attending the Evolution Meetings have played a huge role in shaping the scientist I have become. Science as a field is a strange quirky mix of personal and professional relationships. Community plays such an important role in shaping scientific progress and thinking---that’s what SSE provides. I am very proud to contribute to this community and look forward to doing so for many years.
Are you involved in evolution outreach? Tell us about it.
I recently started a podcast series called “The Biology of Superheroes Podcast” with a friend of mine who works for Warner Bros. Entertainment Group. It has been a really fun way to explore and share biology with a broad audience. We use comic books and science fiction to talk about evolution, technology, and extreme examples of form and function across The Tree of Life. For each episode, I interview a scientist about their research and explore where the science meets the fiction in sci-fi. It has been a really fun project! If you’re interested, please check it out on iTunes or Stitcher.
Tips and Advice
What one piece of advice would you give to a starting graduate student?
If I can cheat a bit….I’ll give two quick pieces of advice to starting graduate students. First, read broadly when you start out. The ideas you formulate in the beginning of your graduate career will shape who you are as a scientist for years to come. I think we are at a point in the field where many of our advancements will come at the crossroads of different sub-disciplines, many of which may seem disconnected at first glance. Reading broadly gives you the opportunity to make those connections and, in doing so, find unique angles for your research. Second, learn a coding language. Big data is the future…or more accurately, the present. Whether you study ecology, behavior, development, or genomics, we are able to collect more data faster than ever before. Learning how to efficiently work with extremely large datasets will save you a lot of pain and energy moving forward….take my word for it.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
When I’m not in the lab/office, I like to spend time doing a few different things that keep me on my toes and help me relax. I like to stay pretty active when I can; I hit the gym and train in mixed martial arts a few days a week. Music is also very important to me. I bought an old vintage record player a few years ago and have gotten really into collecting vinyl now---blues, jazz, soul, etc. It’s been a pretty relaxing pastime. Besides that, I spend a lot of time going on adventures with my dog, a Great Dane named Tatanka. I’m really excited to explore all of the great hiking and walking trails in and around Los Angeles with him this year.