Awesome interview with Dr. Cheryl Kuske of Los Alamos National Laboratory. She discusses her perception of beauty, her path into the microbial world, the types of tools she uses in her research, necessary skills for big data, and her current project.
More About Dr. Kuske
Dr. Kuske writes:
I have been fascinated by the beauty and complexity of the natural world as far back as I can remember. I remember collecting rocks and shells and tearing apart flowers and fruits to see what was inside. I was fortunate to grow up in coastal North Carolina during a time when the beaches were relatively empty and the estuaries and wetlands were abundant and rich with life. From frogs and turtles, to sea cucumbers and starfish, to snakes and alligators, to carnivorous plants, I was able explore them all in canoe and muddy sneakers. I began college at the University of North Carolina in human health, but switched to plant and microbial science at North Carolina State University, primarily because of the enormous diversity and variability of life styles that plants and microorganisms represent. I have continued an active interest in biological diversity and novel biochemical traits that lead to unusual biological lifestyles in plants, fungi, and bacteria. Collectively, they produce most of our known natural pharmaceuticals and antibiotics and many industrial enzymes. Some fungi are agricultural pathogens that have changed the course of human history.
Through an undergraduate research job, I realized that a career in research was where I belonged. One of the joys of research is that you are constantly pushing beyond what is known in order to discover something new or find a new way to remedy a problem. No two days are alike, and there is no time for boredom. After my BS degree, I attended graduate school, first at North Carolina State University (MS degree) and then at the University of California at Davis (PhD degree), to study fungi and bacteria that cause diseases in ornamental plants and fruit trees. In between these two stints in graduate school, I worked for three years at Monsanto in St. Louis, where they were just beginning to find ways to engineer plant genomes. I met my husband while at Monsanto, and after graduate school in California, we moved to Los Alamos, where we have lived for 25 years. After a couple of years in a postdoctoral research position, I established my own research program in environmental microbiology.
I am driven in science by a strong desire to understand how complex biological systems work, and by the creativity it takes to tease out an answer. Science can solve complex puzzles, and biological systems are very complex. They are physics and chemistry in action!
A career in research is rarely an nine-to-five job; it is a way of life. But there are many ways to participate in science that can fit multiple lifestyles. In my generation, many women did not go into research careers because of social or family expectations, but I see that changing with a broadened acceptance of women in science and shared responsibilities for children/home life. I am an advocate for science exploration at many levels, and I hire young people into my program when I can, to expose them to the joys and realities of research.
Outside of my research career, I try to be outdoors as much as possible. I feel extremely fortunate to live in northern New Mexico. This is a very, very special place! I have always been a hiker, canoeist, and cyclist. Before we started a family, I was also an avid whitewater kayaker. Our two children, who are now teens, continue to be focal point of my non-science life, and our family likes to hike, ski and bicycle together.