(My primary mentor, Dr. Kathleen Donohue, has been away from the lab for the past week and a half, so I interviewed my secondary mentor, Dr. Gabriela Auge, instead.)
Whenever I travel to Duke, the four hours of flights make it seem that my home in south Florida is so far away. However, my initial journey to Duke wasn’t even comparable to that of my secondary mentor, Dr. Gabriela (or Gaby) Auge. She spent a significant portion of her life in Argentina, having completed both her undergraduate and graduate education there.
At the Donohue Lab, Gaby works with the seeds of the \Arabidopsis thaliana plant and is currently researching the effect of light quality on their germination patterns. Though the seeds of the Arabidopsis thaliana plant don’t look like much in their dormant stage (in fact, they’re so small that they aren’t much more than a speck, and we need to use a thin probe to place them on the agar), Gaby passionately described their tremendous potential. A seed barely larger than a period can grow several inches tall with dozens of flowers in only a few weeks. Though much of her career has been focused on seeds, she didn’t originally expect them to be such an integral part of her life. She began by studying biotechnology at the National University of Quilmes in Argentina—at which point she knew she wanted to be involved in research—and then started working towards her PhD in 2002 at the University of Buenos Aires. It was during her first post-doc in the School of Agronomy at the University of Buenos Aires that she first began working with seeds, which eventually brought her to Duke University and the Donohue Lab.
Though Gaby’s first post-doc was focused mainly on the effect of temperature on germination and dormancy, she is now expanding the frontier a bit more by considering the lifecycle as a whole. For example, the Donohue Lab contributed to the publication of a paper a few years ago (Chiang et al. 2009) that showed how FLOWERING LOCUS C (or FLC), a gene that repressed flowering in A. thaliana, also plays a role in germination. Therefore, germination and flowering are two steps in the life cycle that are not necessarily two separate units. Though Gaby has made a lot of discoveries at the Donohue Lab here at Duke, she already has a secure position in Argentina (between the level of a post-doc and assistant professor) where she can work on her own project and possibly have her own lab in the near future!
Gaby’s education and scientific career hasn’t all been about performing experiments, though. Her first job was as a TA in Plant Physiology (a course in which she was also a lecturer), then Molecular Physiology, as well as other courses. She wasn’t fond of being a TA at first, since it was a bit of a difficult transition from learning to having to teach classmates that graduated after her. However, once she found the way that she taught best, she began to enjoy it. Though she hasn’t taught any courses at Duke in particular, she does mentor a lot of undergraduate students (including me!) at the Donohue Lab (once she even mentored eight undergrads simultaneously). Through the process of teaching and mentorship, she realized the she really enjoys sharing what she knows with students, especially those that are eager to learn.
After deciding that research was the path for her at the beginning of her undergraduate career, it isn’t surprising that Gaby’s favorite part of being a scientist is the research itself. She enjoys learning in and of itself, and how every day in the lab can be a surprise (on a related note, she described how she once lost several days of work by dropping plants that were cross-pollinated by hand. Next time I lose only a few hours rather than days of work, I’ll have to try to just laugh at my mistake and move on like her). While she said that writing and publishing papers are the most extrinsically rewarding aspect of research, Gaby prefers the experiments themselves (though she just got a paper approved, yay!).
Overall, I really learned a lot from my discussion with Gaby. Though she absolutely knew she wanted to be involved in research when she was at my point in life (whereas I’m ~90% sure I want to pursue research), she didn’t get thoroughly involved with seeds and their lifecycle until she began her PhD work. She seems to have found her calling though, so now I’m a bit more reassured that I have time to decide what I’d like to do with my life. And once I do figure out a future path for myself, I hope to find as much joy in it as Gaby does in hers.