about me

Academic Interests

I am currently a post-doctoral research associate at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, having completed my Ph.D in Biology at Duke University in 2013. My main interests are in the evolution of mating systems in Sphagnum, but I have also worked on several side projects involving the population genetics and phylogenetics of mosses. In my time in grad school I developed a strong interest in programming, particularly in R and Python. My interests in bioinformatics are focused on extending methods developed for model organisms to study non-model systems. I have been involved with the Pleurocarpous Moss Tree of Life project, in which we are using targeted sequence capture (HybSeq) to reconstruct a genus-level phylogeny of mosses. As lead bioinformatician, I developed a pipeline for sorting and assembling aligning high-throughput sequencing reads into phylogenetic datasets of exon and intron sequences. For more information on the pipeline, see my Github page.

But I am not just an analysis geek– I find that I think most clearly about science when in the field with the organisms I am studying, so I try to get to the field as much as possible! The central topic of my research is the origin and maintenance of biodiversity within peatland ecosystems. My focus is on the interface between organismal biology (genomics, genetics, and systematics) and ecosystem function (nitrogen and carbon cycles, decomposition and productivity). Peatlands dominated by Sphagnum (peat mosses) are unique because ecosystem function is generated by assemblages of dozens of species from the same genus. My research program integrates field experiments, molecular biology, and the emerging genomic resources for Sphagnum to address three fundamental questions:

  1. How do Sphagnum-dominated peatlands maintain high species diversity through microhabitat niche partitioning?
  2. What is the relationship between intra-species variation and ecosystem function?
  3. How can we adapt genomics techniques developed for model organisms to address the demands of studying non-model systems in natural environments?

I find that I learn best when instructing others, and I have fostered this strong interest in teaching not only as a teaching assistant but also as a tutor with the Duke University Athletics Department for five years. In Chicago, I have had the chance to teach a workshop on bioinformatics at the Pleurocarpous Moss Tree of Life meeting, and am a co-instructor for an introductory masters course at Northwestern University. I am extremely committed to demystifying the learning curve associated with bioinformatics, to prepare students to be the next generation of biologists. Check out my GitHub page and my blog to view some of the tutorials I have developed.

Personal Interests

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That’s me (middle) at the 2010 Final Four in Indianapolis..

I grew up in Hardyston Township in rural New Jersey. From an early age I took a strong interest in science and biology, inspired by the works of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. After graduating from Wallkill Valley Regional High School in 2002, I attended Duke University, majoring in Biology. It was there that I had my first encounter with Sphagnum, on a ten-day collection trip through the SE US coastal plain. Following graduation with honors in 2006, I worked on the Soybean Transformation Team at BASF Plant Science, LLC, in Durham, NC. I entered grad school at Duke in 2007.

Outside of academics, I enjoy watching sports (college basketball, baseball, and pro football), playing tennis and video games, and cooking. Inside of academics, it’s too dark to read.

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