Why living things do what they do, and what keeps groups of them living together has always been a fascination. Biology is this extraordinary, complicated balance of so many processes acting at different scales, from proteins inside cells, to bacteria living inside animals and plants, to the interactions of animals and plants and other macrobes, to plankton spread across an ocean. My PhD advisor Colleen Cavanaugh has a saying, “Nothing makes sense except in the light of ecology and evolution” after a famous Dobzhansky quote, which really encapsulates what makes studying biology so fascinating. Life exists at the dynamic intersection of biotic and abiotic forces (ecology) that are constantly being tweaked, pruned, or added (evolution). So, I study the ecology and evolution of microbial communities to better understand the world around and inside of us.
My path to science started as I grew up on Majuro Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Here I gained an appreciation for marine biology and community ecology, seeing how many different ways coral, fish, and mollusk communities could be organized around a tiny atoll. I moved to the USA for college, and in 2015 received my undergraduate degree in Marine Science from the University of South Carolina, working in Jay Pinkney’s lab where I learned how exciting phytoplankton ecology could be. At the end of undergrad through a great internship, I was introduced to bioinformatics and the human microbiome in the labs of Jessica Mark Welch and Gary Borisy. Through them and this internship, I met my PhD advisor Colleen Cavanaugh, whose lab I’ve had the privilege of being in for the past 6 years while working on my thesis and way too many side projects.