Carl interviews Hannah Waters, molecular biology lab tech & author of the blog, Culturing Science

By Carl

In January, eight Extreme Biology students will travel to Science Online 2011, an international conference where scientists, educators, journalists, and students come together to discuss the way the web is changing science and science education. As part of their preparation, the students have conducted interviews with conference organizers, presenters, and participants. This is the fifth in the 2011 series.

Hannah Waters is a lab technician in molecular biology.  Her blog, Culturing Science, discusses topics related to ecology and evolution.  She also blogs about marine ecology on Sleeping with the Fishes.

Have you been to the Science Online conference before? And what compelled you to attend this year?

I have not been to Science Online before.  I didn’t start my blog until the end of 2009 and was not even aware of the 2010 conference as it was happening – that’s how out of the loop I was back in the day!  But I’m very excited to get to attend this year.  As a new-ish blogger, it will be a great opportunity to learn about science writing and blogging from the other attendees and from the sessions.  And, in the process, I’ll get the chance to meet all my bloggy friends in real life, meet new people, and learn about other blogs!  I have very high expectations for the weekend, to say the least.

I looked at your website and couldn’t understand exactly what it is that you do.  How would you describe your profession?

The reason that you couldn’t figure out my profession from my blog is that my blog is completely unrelated to my profession!  I have long been interested in ecology and evolution, especially related to marine biology and oceanography.  But there aren’t too many jobs in those fields in Philadelphia, so instead I am working as a lab technician in molecular biology.  I use my blog to keep in touch with and learn about ecology and evolution even though I don’t get to study these topics at my job.

One cool thing about my job is that I work in two labs that are in the same field, but do their research from different perspectives.  Both labs are interested in the aging process: how does the molecular biology of a cell change as it gets old?  In particular, we look at the epigenetics of cells – not changes in the DNA itself, but changes in the molecules and proteins that are bound to or associated with DNA.  And while both labs also study aging using yeast as a model organism, each lab has a different definition of what an “old cell” is and the experiments are completely different.  I had to learn a lot of information and techniques very quickly when I first started, but now I’m a pro.

Why do we care about an how a cell ages?  As many organisms get older, including humans, there is a greater chance of developing diseases such as various cancers, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.  If the aging process of a cell is linked to these diseases, by learning what precisely is changing at the molecular level we could help develop therapies to reduce the occurrence of these diseases.

Lastly, when did you realize that you wanted to go into the field of science?

I have been interested in science since I was in middle school, but even when I was in college, I wasn’t positive that I wanted to be a scientist.  In biology class, I always felt like I was not as smart as the other students and, although I loved it, I doubted that I would ever be able to know enough to be a scientist.  Over the years I developed a sense that being a “good scientist’ isn’t necessarily about memorizing facts (though it helps), but is rather a way of evaluating information, making observations and asking questions about the world.  While sometimes I imagine what life would be like if I had instead become a Latin scholar, I’m glad that I decided to stick it out, get over my insecurities, and begin a lifelong journey in SCIENCE.


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