Scientist Spotlight: Alyssa Anderson

IMG_6724 - Alyssa AndersonDecember 2017 Spotlight: Alyssa Anderson

CLEAR Member? I’ve been a member since it started (2015)!

What do you do? I study how plants grow and develop.

Where did you grow up? Jamestown, NY

What was your favorite class ever and why? Intro to Metaphysics with Karen Bennet. It was the first class to put a structure and process to the crazy things I love thinking about! We answered questions like “What are the logical fallacies inherent in time travel?” and “Can humans have free will?” Philosophy expands your perspective on the entirety of existence and forces you to question reality from very bizarre angles. This is exactly what I need to do as a good scientist as well!

When did you decide to pursue the current field you are in? I slowly transitioned into my current field of plant genetics. I love genetics because it is like figuring out logic puzzles, a favorite pastime of mine, but I really don’t like working with lots of the model organisms. For example, I don’t have the stomach for killing mice or the patience to maintain stocks of fruit flies for decades. With plants I don’t have to feel bad about killing hundreds of them and their seeds are really easy to store!

What did you do between undergrad and grad school? In between my undergraduate career and graduate school I needed to take some time away from science so I could see if I missed it. (Luckily, I did miss it and had to conclude that science was worth coming back to!) In the meantime, I worked a lot of odd jobs including: bouncer at a night club, puppy sitter, harvest worker, and cheese salesman. I LOVED all of these experiences and learned a lot about myself while having fun at the same time.

What do you hope to do after you leave grad school? After getting my PhD there are actually a lot of options that I hope to pursue! I definitely want to see what science is like in an industry setting, but I also think that I can do a lot of good for the world through science outreach and education. Everyone deserves the ability to understand the world around them and I want to help people develop the skills they need to do just that.

When you and your lab mates decide to go out for food and drinks, where do you go? A favorite spot for my lab is called Christopher’s Nothing Fancy Cafe. You can find us there most Friday nights with a plate of nachos and multiple pitchers of frozen margaritas.

Describe the lab day you had today. Today I got the most exciting result of my entire PhD!!! (I’m not kidding…) I saw the first sign of evidence that a mystery gene that I work with is important when plants are under attack from a pest! The evidence is literally a couple of black lines on a pale background, AKA not an exciting sight to anyone else in the world. But to me, these small black lines represent months of theories and research and are some of the most beautiful lines I have ever seen. 🙂

What is your favorite scientific innovation, tool or technology? Caveat: this doesn’t exist yet so it’s more of my Sci-Fi dream, but maybe someone out there will be inspired and make it for me! Invention: A vacuum cleaner that only picks up one particular structure at a time. For example you could set it to “DNA” and point it at a plant and all of the DNA would be sucked right out of the plant and into your vacuum…or you could set it to “Dirt” and point it at a messy room and all the dirt would just go into your vacuum but nothing else would get caught…or set it to “Fish” and point it at a river…the possibilities would be endless!

Top 3 items on your bucket list? In no particular order:
– Publish a short fiction story
– Own chickens
– Master the Two Beat Weave trick for hula-hooping…its so much harder than the single beat!

Finally, what has been your favorite outreach experience? I love going out with CLEAR to local farmers markets. We get to interact with such diverse members of the community and I always learn something new! Hopefully, I also impart a bit of knowledge through these interactions, but each experience is far more of a give and take than I ever could have imagined.

Alyssa (right), with fellow CLEAR member Mary Madera, at the Temescal Farmers Market in November answering random science questions, discussing food waste and getting to know the local community members.


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