Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Olivia Anastasio (Pischedda Lab): I grew up in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn with my mom, dad, and older brother. From elementary school to high school, I attended public school, and subsequently for college, I studied Environmental Conservation and Biology at Clark University in Worcester, MA. While at Clark, during my time as an undergraduate, I joined two biology labs. The first one, in my sophomore year, was an evolutionary biology lab run by Dr. Susan Foster and Dr. John Baker. My project focused on phenotypic plasticity using three spine stickleback fish as the model organism. In my senior year I joined "The Ant Lab," led by PI Dr. Kate Mathis, where I discovered my passion and love for insects, but more specifically, insect ecology. It was the first lab to engage my basic understanding of ecological principles while also providing insight into real world issues. In 2019, I received my master's at Clark University with Dr. Kate Mathis as my advisor. For my fifth-year master's research, I studied the impacts of the invasive Argentine ant and Asian citrus psyllid in southern California. Now I am working as a Laboratory Technician in Dr. Alison Pischedda’s fruit fly lab. We are currently working on a continuous project on how intralocus sexual conflict affects different components of male fitness.
Lena Kogan (BC '19, Snow Lab): I am from Port Washington, NY, a town on Long Island (so I have strong opinions on where to get the best bagels). I attended Barnard College for undergrad, and I graduated in 2019 as a Physiology and Organismal Biology major, but clearly I decided to stick around for a little longer. I am currently a Lab Technician in the Snow Lab, where I conduct research on the impact of proteasome inhibitors and other novel treatments on Nosema ceranae infection in honey bees. I am also looking to analyze the impact of various stressors on the gut microbiome of honey bees.
Nicole Rondeau (BC '18, Miranda Lab): My name is Nicole Rondeau and I'm originally from Gilbert, Arizona. I moved to New York City in 2014 to attend Barnard College where I graduated in 2018 with degrees in Dance and Biology. I couldn't bear to part with my dear Altschul so I stuck around and am currently the Lab Technician in Professor JJ Miranda's lab where our research focuses identifying small molecules that interfere with the viral mechanisms and human transcription pathways utilized by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) to drive cancer growth in lymphomas. Additionally, I work on the Covid Wastewater Project monitoring the presence of sars-cov-2 in the Barnard community. My work outside of Altschul includes being a professional freelance dancer in the city and working as a lead teaching artist and assistant for Mark Morris Dance Group's Dance for Parkinson's Disease program and Children's Division.
Abigail 'Abby' Ryckman (BC '18, Mansfield Lab): I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and moved to NYC to attend Barnard College. I majored in Political Science, minored in Dance, and completed all of the medical school prerequisites. I joined Professor Bauer's lab the summer after my sophomore year as part of Barnard's Summer Research Institute. I stayed in Professor Bauer's lab until graduation. After graduation, I worked in a doctor's office before coming back to work for Professor Mansfield as a lab technician. We study hoxa5 and its role in regulating musculoskeletal morphology. I have primarily focused on brown adipose tissue and muscle development in adult mice and embryos.
I believe the most important qualities for a scientist to possess are the ability to think creatively and adapt easily and gracefully. Science is fraught with road blocks and dead ends so having an open mind and being okay with failure will serve any scientist well.
What draws you to the research that you conduct?
OA: I am honestly drawn to any research that includes insects. Insects do not only possess unique behaviors, but also their ability to represent or increase biodiversity, and make for effective sample sizes :). I am very interested in agriculture and integrated pest management. I enjoy these topics, because not only do they explore scientific phenomena, but also strive to create solutions for socioeconomic and environmental macro issues. I am also passionate about the work I collaborate on with Dr. Pischedda. It gives me the opportunity to practice a different type of in-lab skill set, as well as finding solutions to current unclear evolutionary topics.
NR: Following the research I conducted for my senior thesis in Professor Snow's lab, I knew I wanted to pursue scientific research as a profession. Having a never ending stream of questions to answer is my happy place. I really enjoy the research we do in the Miranda lab because of the myriad of complex problems that arise when a virus causes cancer within the human body. It is an interesting intersection between cellular/molecular biology and virology.
AR: I was initially drawn to Professor Bauer's because I was very interested in PTSD and the brain, so her research and my interests at the time fit together well. When I heard Professor Mansfield was looking for a lab technician from my friend Nicole Rondeau, I felt as though everything was falling into place. I read up on her work, interviewed, and immediately knew it was right for me. I'm not sure it was the Hoxa5 research question itself that drew me to her work more than the day to day experiments I would be doing. I already knew I liked working in rodents, and I loved every stage of immunohistochemistry in Professor Bauer's lab. Therefore, I knew I would enjoy the work, which I thought was just as important as the research topic.
LK: The mystery. I realized during my research experience in undergrad that there is an overwhelming amount of questions in biology, and every time you answer one, you realize you have ten more. Biology research can be so unpredictable. I find biology research invigorating because people have to work together to unravel mysteries. When it comes to honey bee research, specifically, there is still so much that we don’t know about how they function and thrive, as both individuals and as colonies. There is a lot of room for creativity in both the questions we ask and the procedures we develop. It’s cool to do research on an organism that is undeniably vital to our existence. Because we depend on honey bees in so many ways, we get to look at their well-being as a reflection of the work we have to do as a society.
This year in intro bio, we have been focusing on what it means to be a scientist and to "do science". In your opinion, what qualities is it most important for a scientist to have? Has that changed from what you thought before joining a lab?
NR: I believe the most important qualities for a scientist to possess are the ability to think creatively and adapt easily and gracefully. Science is fraught with road blocks and dead ends so having an open mind and being okay with failure will serve any scientist well.
AR: Creativity and patience. Creativity and patience are so intertwined in science because they are both so involved in making hypotheses and accessing results. In my mind creativity and problem-solving are interchangeable.
LK: It’s important for a scientist to have a genuine curiosity in their field, and an interest in communication in all of its forms: from listening to writing to speaking to presenting their findings in compelling and accessible ways. It’s also important to be able to use unexpected results or ‘unsuccessful’ experiments as an opportunity to reframe one’s perspective of a subject, and as a jumping off point for new questions. My opinion on what qualities are most important for a scientist have changed immensely from what I thought before joining a lab. I thought a scientist was someone who was an expert in every aspect of their field, and understood how every little detail fit in with every other detail. I also thought it was someone who could breeze through a scientific article and understand every part of it. I’ve since learned that the (many) questions I have when I read scientific literature are probably exactly what the authors themselves are wondering about. And usually, the authors are very excited to talk to you about those questions!
OA: I think it’s important for a scientist to have an open mind, be encouraging and compassionate about your work. Usually, people do not join the science community because it’s something they like, they usually join the science community because it’s something they love. Experiments are timely, take thought and if you are not interested in your research, then I believe that will show. What I love about science is that it’s just a continuation/endless series of questions about the natural world. Just the sheer fact of being engaged and passionate about your work will inevitably result in creative, dynamic, and thoughtful questions.
Something I’ve been learning more recently about “being a scientist,” is how adaptive and creative you have to be. While being an undergraduate, mainly your research is based upon and bestowed upon you from your advisor. While becoming a more independent scientist, I have realized the numerous DIY inventions, trial and errors, and the importance of letting the experiments run their course.
It’s important for a scientist to have a genuine curiosity in their field, and an interest in communication in all of its forms: from listening to writing to speaking to presenting their findings in compelling and accessible ways. It’s also important to be able to use unexpected results or ‘unsuccessful’ experiments as an opportunity to reframe one’s perspective of a subject, and as a jumping off point for new questions.
Undergraduate research can be one of the most intellectually rewarding experiences as a Barnard student. What advice would you give to an undergrad at Barnard who is interested in pursuing research opportunities but may not know where to start?
NR: It is never too late to pursue research opportunities. Utilize your network of professors and classmates to determine if any lab opportunities available would be for you. If so, read up on the lab and their research before reaching out so you can identify to the PI why you are interested in their research. Additionally, if you decide senior year you want to try research, do it. You do not have to have a head start to have a career in science. I did not join Professor Jon Snow's lab until senior fall and I am forever glad I made the jump.
AR: When you first start looking at research opportunities, try to read at least one paper from each lab you're interested in, recent papers give you a good picture of what the lab is currently working on. Take that information with you as you begin reaching out to professors.
LK: My advice would be to reach out to any professor in the sciences at Barnard and tell them you are interested! Cold-emailing can be really intimidating, but the key is to show them that you’ve read some of their research, and that you would like to talk to them. Even if a professor isn’t currently accepting students into their lab, they will likely be eager to give you advice on finding a position and even connect you with colleagues whose work matches your interests. Once you join a lab, get to know everyone, not just the PI (PI stands for primary investigator and is the professor who founded the lab). Other undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs and associate scientists can teach you a lot about the lab and research in general, and sometimes feel more approachable. Many of them were probably in your place very recently, so they’ll be happy to give you honest advice about research. Plus, because research is so collaborative, it’ll give you a feel for how ideas and experiments come together. Finally, talk to other undergraduates who are doing research, or even look at social media accounts like @lab_shenanigans on TikTok. This account helped me realize that all of the “shenanigans” I’ve gotten into during my lab experiences are actually shared experiences, and something to laugh and learn from!
OA: Definitely do it. You do not want to be in a lab, just to be in a lab. So my first advice would be to research professors at Barnard that you would be interested in pursuing their research. For me, research as an undergraduate felt like an escape from classes and the overall stress and weight of being an undergraduate. It's a great way to, one, ascertain whether science or research is a passion or something you wish to continue in the future. Two, it allows you to explore principles you learn in class, while also practice subjects and methods you learn in class. In my opinion, it also makes you a greater student because you are actively working on projects that coincide with topics you learn in classes. It also gives you the opportunity to work closely with a professor whose work you admire!
Creativity and patience are so intertwined in science because they are both so involved in making hypotheses and accessing results. In my mind creativity and problem-solving are interchangeable.
In academia, burnout can be a really detrimental problem resulting from intense pressure and high expectations on productivity. What do you do to practice self-care? What do you enjoy doing when you're not in Altschul?
AR: My self-care routine centers around baking and my puppy. I also have a cat, but he is pretty independent and only cuddles at bedtime. I live a block away from Central Park, and I love taking long walks. Seeing my puppy play and discover the world brings me so much joy. My obsession with baking has spanned my entire life and was brought to a new level when I started watching the Great British Baking Show. I love trying new techniques and sharing with friends. Also tea, I love a good pot of tea. I've never been a coffee fan, but I am always on the lookout for a delicious new blend. When I'm not in Altschul, I enjoy baking, walking around NYC, and in non-pandemic times, going to the ballet or museums. At the beginning of the pandemic, I did not own a bike yet, so I walked to work through Riverside park. I highly recommend taking the walk from Barnard down to Trader Joe's at 72nd at least once each Spring; the flowers and trees are incredible.
NR: Self-care for me looks like a lot of different things. It is not setting an alarm on Sunday mornings and also working with a therapist. It is packing my lunches in the morning to save money but also buying that latte every once in a while because it brings me joy and I'm worth spending my money on. The best thing I've learned about self-care is the importance of listening to your body and mind and doing the things they need to feel content and taken care of. When I'm not in Altschul, I love taking dance classes in the city (or my living room cause #pandemic). I also recently bought a bike so I love biking around the city to do errands and see friends.
OA: To practice self-care, I try to keep my mind and body engaged. To do this, I either practice yoga, go to the gym or meditate for at least an hour a day. I generally bring a book or my journal on the train to write or read, which allows me to reflect and think. Something less generic and since the pandemic, my roommates and I have taken an embarrassingly high liking to Love Island UK. After a long day of staring at fruit flies under the microscope, I enjoy decompressing with my roommates while watching Love Island and drinking a glass of wine :0. When I am not in Altschul, I enjoy going on walks with my roommates or friends around my neighborhood or local parks. When the weather is warm, I really enjoy picnics at Prospect Park or biking, swimming, or walking on trails.
LK: I practice self-care by going on walks. I actually walk to lab, and I really like starting and ending my day with a walk because it helps me compartmentalize whatever I experienced at work. Also, in typical Capricorn fashion, I make lists: to-do lists, lists of things that I’m worried about, lists of things I’m looking forward to, etc. This helps me feel like I’ve acknowledged the things I’m thinking about, and can come back to them when I’m ready to delve in more deeply. Plus, any excuse to use some nice stationary! I enjoy cooking, drawing, biking, watching Survivor, and telling people that I watch Survivor.
What I love about science is that it’s just a continuation or endless series of questions about the natural world. Just the sheer fact of being engaged and passionate about your work will inevitably result in creative, dynamic, and thoughtful questions.
What is your must-go-to spot in NYC?
NR: My must-go-to place is a seat in a theatre of any live performing arts performance. While this is not an option at the current moment, as soon as the live arts reopen, you must take advantage of the wonderful performing arts scene we have in this city.
AR: My must-go-to place in NYC is Lincoln Center. I love going to eat dinner and see a performance. I love story ballets and built up my collection of playbills before the pandemic hit. In terms of food, I love Red Farm for great "modern Chinese" and Indie Food and Wine for an inexpensive yet delicious dinner around Lincoln Center.
LK: If you would like to talk to me about pursuing research in undergrad, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
OA: If you have any questions about a master's program, graduate school, life after your undergraduate studies, research, or truly anything, my email is email@example.com.
AR: I am starting law school this Fall and would not have gotten to this point without the support and inspiration of my Biology Department colleagues.
NR: The one thing I wish I had done in undergrad was attend my professors' office hours. It is okay to ask for help! They're there to help you understand your classes and work. Barnard Bio professors are also really cool and interesting, so get to know them as humans too! If you would like to chat about science, research, or anything, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org (or find me in 1302)!