October 2017 Spotlight: Mary Madera
CLEAR member? Since we started – March 2015
What do you do? I study drought tolerance and growth patterns in a gluten-free grain called sorghum which is a staple crop for many people worldwide.
Where did you grow up? The base of Mt. Diablo in Clayton, CA.
Before your current position, where did you work? Sports Basement Walnut Creek, all through college. It was a fun job and an academic break each weekend.
What is your favorite method of vacationing? Where? Camping. Anywhere with trees, ferns, hikes and some body of water – lakes or rivers preferred.
Why did you join CLEAR? I really enjoy interacting with the public and think it is crucial for scientists to be active in their communities. If our research aims to benefit the greater good in any capacity, especially for agriculture-centric fields, we must be in touch and in tune with the questions, fears, and perceptions the public has regarding our studies, and science in general. We can’t settle and hide behind facts and lab coats; we need to ask and listen to our non-scientist neighbors, too. CLEAR was a way to improve my own skills in science communciation, hang out with scientists with similar goals and organize events and media where we share our science passions as active members of our community.
When did you decide to pursue plant biology? I made a large replica of a plant cell in 7th grade I was really proud of (thanks Ms. Brewington!) but not really until Bio 1B, an intro bio class here at Cal. Professor Lew Feldman taught the plant section and it was my first exposure to plant sciences and I was immediately enthralled. I felt that I’d learned about animal and medical bio my whole life, but had never been taught the biology of my absolute favorite parts of nature: redwoods and ferns (and everything green). My best friend was taking it, too, and given that she was a non-science major, I got to tutor her all the way through it and quickly realized that I loved teaching her the plant section the most. I declared the following semester. Although I double majored in nutrition, I couldn’t imagine not working with plants. So, I focus on agriculture, telling myself it’s the best of both worlds…sort of.
Describe one experience growing up which influenced the way you thought about science: I attended a Tropical Conservation and Diversity program in Costa Rica in college. It was research based and I hadn’t taken any upper division courses yet. The program’s structure showed me how accessible research can be; everyone can do it. All you need is a question, like “Which smell do flies prefer?”, and the desire to look for an answer. We researched that one using toliet paper, essential oils and 2 hours hanging out in the cloud forest counting bright blue flies. Scientific inquiry doesn’t have to be fancy or complex. I enrolled in undergrad research the following semester and never left.
Although I ask more complex questions in lab now, I’m still constantly asking simpler ones: “What if I substitute almond milk?” My batter will be missing protein so I’ll need an extra egg white.
What did you do between undergrad and grad school? I actually haven’t been to grad school yet (one of only 2 CLEAR fellows who hasn’t) and was an undergrad when we started. I took 2 years off school to “test the waters” of full-time research in my current position before applying to grad school for Fall 2018 to pursue a PhD. I also spend quite a bit of time organizing CLEAR events and upkeeping our media platforms during this in-between time.
What does your lab workspace look like right now? My desk is an unusual mess of lab supplier brochures, DNA bracelet kits for a CLEAR event and spreadsheets. My bench is covered with RNA extraction kits and racks of literally hundreds of labeled tubes waiting to be filled with ground sorghum tissue and shipped off.
How do you prefer to spend your time outside of the lab? Outdoors. Outreach. Running. Cooking/baking. Reading. And, admittedly, Netflix.
What is your lab pet peeve? Either when people don’t label things and leave them lying around or when people don’t use pipette tips with any sort of rhyme or reason (“wild cards”).