Meet the Scientist, February 9 2017
We’d like you to get to know a bit about our Science Distilled speakers before the monthly talks. We’ll post short profiles to give you a glimpse of the personality and background of our featured scientists!
Left: Lauren Hirao, Right: Brenna Kiniry
We sat down with our two speakers for February’s Science Distilled: Dr. Lauren Hirao, a postdoctoral scholar in the Medical Microbiology and Immunology department, and Brenna Kiniry, a Ph.D. candidate in Microbiology. Both scientists are working on HIV research at UC Davis.
What inspired you to study science?
Brenna – I grew up on a farm and was given a microscope kit while I was in elementary school. I would take gum, saliva, water from our llama pond, put them on slides and look at them under the microscope. The first time I saw little creatures under the slide I thought “oh my god!” I would often talk with my father, a doctor, about science and it instilled in me from a young age just how cool science was.
Lauren – In 6th grade we had a science fair project and I got the highest grade in the class. I thought to myself “I must be kind of good at this!” In middle school I also happened to be the best in my science class, and that kept me going and interested in science. From there the rest is history.
How does audience change the way you communicate your science?
Brenna – Kids are much more open to listening to what you have to say. They get excited about something new immediately. If you can hook them in with something fascinating, you have their attention. Adults come with preconceived notions of how they think the world works. Personal beliefs can even hinder adults’ ability to look at the scientific data, or accept the findings.
Lauren – When I speak with friends who aren’t in biology, I try using the public health approach. I relate the science back to them. The politics of our science can be interesting, behind the scenes of the paper. Which means being skeptical. For example, if a press release is tied to a science conference rather than a published article, take it with a huge grain of salt.
How do you set your science workday off to a good start?
Brenna – Music is a big motivator, though the genre depends on how well my experiments are going! I also like to give myself a list of tasks I’m going to concentrate on that day, and try my best.
Lauren – On our floor we have a European style morning routine. We always start our day with coffee and chatting together.
How do you spend your time when you’re not busy working in the lab?
Brenna – I try to play an active role in science-based medicine and skepticism. If a friend brings me some new story about a new miracle food, I’ll turn them back to look critically at the data. Besides that, I fill up my time with science communication- and I love to exercise.
Lauren – I’m always searching for the next novel thing. So if it’s not in the lab, it’s outside it. Falconry, flying trapeze, or traveling. The weirder the activity the more likely I’ll do it. I like to take my nephews on fun adventures. We always do something they’ve never done before, but now the bar is set really high! Parasailing, swimming with sharks, just a few examples of trying to broaden their worldview.
Interview by Nicole Soltis and Bobby Castagna of Sac Science Distilled