I study the genetics and evolution of the human face. This basically means that I use computer code to analyze the genetic data associated with thousands of 3D photographs, after those 3D photographs have been turned into lots of data points. I’m most interested in facial asymmetry, because we all are a little asymmetric but no one really knows why. Most of the hypotheses think that it has something to do with nutrition or really big stresses (think: wars and natural disasters), but some people think that your genetics influences your asymmetry too. I aim to try and figure it out!
We recently published a paper in Nature Genetics that I’m really pleased with. It was a massive effort between four institutions, and I’m really happy that I was involved and that the group is still working together and coming up with cool research.
The Shriver lab is recruiting for a new study! -------------------------------> We’re interested in how DNA influences appearance, as well as collecting a Facial Database for Disney Research to study facial movement and improve animation technologies! If you are interested in volunteering, follow this link to take an eligibility screening survey. Participants will receive $25 for their participation, and a subset will be given the option to receive an MRI scan of their head.
Not currently, but I consider myself the cool auntie to all of my friends’ and family’s pets.
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What are your top three favorite/coolest organisms?
Hmm this is tough. I really like mantis shrimp, both because some of them are crazy punching machines and because they have super complicated eyeballs. The “smashing” variety of mantis shrimp can punch prey at 31-52 miles per hour AND causes shock waves in the water that further stun their prey. And mantis shrimp have cool eyeballs that have 16 specialized types of cells so they can detect colors that we humans can’t even imagine seeing.
I love hiking and rock climbing (mostly indoors, because it seems like it’s always either raining or winter in PA). I also enjoy reading, knitting, and embroidery and can pretty much always be found working on some craft project or another in my downtime.
What language do you want to learn?
French, Spanish, Sign Language, and then all the rest.
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
I just got back from one of my dream places (Morocco)! I think next on my list is Greece or basically anywhere in South America.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I’ve always thought that if I found a magic lamp (no dice in Morocco), I would wish for the ability to speak any language that I encountered. The other thing I would wish for is telekinesis, including the ability to teleport myself. It would make traveling a breeze!
When I’m just jamming I listen to Americana and Indie Rock, but when I’m coding have to zone out to something without any lyrics and usually listen to Sigur Rós and Mogwai. I don’t even know what to call that genre … ambient rock? Chill electronica?
Two things, that humans are way more similar to each other than they are different, both genetically and just from a very human perspective. We may have different appearances and cultures, but we all have hopes and fears and love, and that similarity should be honored. The second thing is that genetics isn’t the end-all-be-all of a trait. Just because we’ve “found a gene for X” doesn’t mean we really understand “X” or that if you have that gene you’ll automatically have whatever “X” is, be it a disease, or resistance, or just curly hair.
Pretty early, I think. My family likes to tell stories of how, after my dad and I would come back from fishing, I would set out the fish bones so they would dry out and I could poke around in them. I thought the fish was slimy and gross when it was alive, but I had no problems with handling them once the bones were clean!
Strengths: I’m pretty doggedly persistent, and more than a little OCD. Once I decide that I’m going to do something, I dig my heels in and get it done and I do my best to make sure it’s done well.
Weaknesses: I’m more than a little OCD 😊 and have my fair share of imposter syndrome, which means that I sometimes spend waaaay to long trying to make an analysis or manuscript perfect. I also have historically had a hard time saying “no” and have a few projects that are still limping along because I keep adding analyses to them, even though I should have stopped and started writing the paper already.
I try spend at least a few hours each day just relaxing, usually by cooking and then working on one of my crafts. Some days this works better than others ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Like: I love the excitement of working through a new research idea and the “HECK YES!” feeling that comes when you figure out a tricky piece of code.
Dislike: I sometimes get really discouraged by the complexity of genetics – there are so many things that we can’t control for so I often find myself second guessing results that are actually pretty solid.
Like: I really like the flexibility of work hours and locations. I often appreciate working from home or a coffee shop, and each summer I tend to spend a month or two going to workshops and traveling. I also like the academic “community” feel that a lot of people foster. There are some people who I’ve only met at conferences and on Twitter, but I know that they cheer on my accomplishments just like I cheer on theirs.
Dislike: The ratcheting up of the pressure! There’s so much pressure on academics across the board to work longer hours and produce more papers and grants that I think we all have a hard time both living whole lives and doing quality research.
What is something that fascinates you from a field that is not your own?
I’ve recently become fascinated by economic psychology – why and how people spend and save their money (or don’t). I’d like to think that I’ve figured out some of the tricks that advertisers use and am now immune to them, but that’s probably not true at all.
Anyone who has quit a stable but unfulfilling job in order to pursue their dreams, no matter how silly those dreams may seem to everyone else. I’m not sure I could do the same thing, but I still find it a brave action.
A quiet place and my ambient rock playlist. And I need to get started in the morning, or else half the day is lost with me productively procrastinating on answering emails or doing chores around the house.
I’m not really sure – I love doing computational research, so I’d really like to find a position where I can continue doing data analysis. Maybe that’s a position in academia, or maybe it’s a position at a research institution or industry. We’ll see.