Science IRL Productions
YouTube: Science IRL
I did my undergraduate at Cornell University, where I studied Equisetum shoot apical meristem development with Margaret Frank in the Scanlon Lab. I was introduced to the field of evo-devo for the first time, and I thought it was so satisfying that you could study nitty gritty developmental genetics but then bring it into a broader context with evolutionary and comparative approaches. But I wasn't ready to commit to evo-devo for graduate school, so I worked for a year as a lab technician at the New York Botanical Garden - I had spent every college summer there as an intern so it was a natural next step, and an absolute dream to work at the place where I had originally fallen in love with plants. I enjoyed my molecular systematics projects but missed teasing apart genetic pathways and functions, so next I worked as a technician in the Coruzzi Lab at NYU on plant nitrogen signaling systems biology. I grew in leaps and bounds as a molecular biologist but found myself wanting more evolution in my life, and realized that evo-devo really was the field for me. I did my PhD in the Kramer Lab at Harvard, where I studied the development and evolution of the unique Aquilegia petal nectar spur. My work focused on two sister species with contrasting bee and hummingbird pollination syndromes. The nectar spur of the bee species is short and curved, while that of the hummingbird species is long and straight. I used QTL mapping, RNA-seq, and microscopy studies to determine the developmental and genetic bases of these different spur morphologies. My QTL paper came out in Evolution last year, and my developmental and transcriptional study was just published in AJB!
As my fondness for plant biology grew, so too did my interest in science communication. I participated in public speaking competitions and learned the basics of video production from my 4-H club in high school, and theater and art have always been a huge part of my life. After college, I found myself missing those outlets, and simultaneously realizing that there was a lot of mistrust and misunderstanding about science and that I'd like to help do something about it. I decided to meld all of these things together into a YouTube channel, Science IRL. Our mission is to cultivate, especially in young people, enthusiasm for and a sense of belonging in STEM. In each episode I visit a guest scientist in the lab or field and we do an experiment together and discuss their research. It's not so much about teaching a specific science concept, but rather showing how those concepts come to life when they're used by real researchers, and most importantly, the humanity and joy of being a scientist at work. Elena (my advisor) was very supportive of me pursing this interest, and helped me apply for grant funding and other opportunities while I was in grad school. I knew I had found my calling and decided to be a full-time science communicator when I graduated. I started my business, Science IRL Productions, this year and now work as a freelance science media producer. I collaborate with a variety of academic, industry, and ed-tech partners on their video projects, as well as produce my own content on Science IRL. It's been a major adjustment leaving academia and striking out on this new path, but so far so good! And I'm so glad I still get to be academia-adjacent by continuing to create projects with my favorite plant people and staying involved with BSA.
How Molly got interested in the botanical sciences:
My mom tells me my first word was flower, so maybe it was fate! But I first really became interested in plants through photography. I still remember when my family got our first digital camera (a whopping two megapixels) and I would spend every weekend in the glasshouse of the New York Botanical Garden taking pictures of the lush greenery and thriving flowers. And then everything fell into place when I took high school biology. My teacher, Ms. Merrill, spent a lot of time on plants, and I began to see all of the science secrets waiting to be uncovered in the plants I was photographing. I decided then that I only wanted to apply to colleges that had plant biology programs, and I never looked back!
Molly's advice for those just starting their botanical journey:
Find supportive, kind mentors. You can be at the most prestigious institution in the world with endless funding and resources, but none of that will matter without good mentorship. Before joining a lab, talk with current and past members to get an honest assessment of the the mentorship you'll receive there. I am so lucky to have found amazing mentors at each phase of my career and now have a network of people in my corner who I know will always be there for me. Pick someone you think you'll feel comfortable going to for help at your most stressed and overwhelmed, who will also be there to celebrate your highest accomplishments. Science needs more kindness, and I think we should all be seeking it out in the people we work with.
I'm a choir nerd and knitter! Recently I have been getting super into embroidery.
Published Articles in BSA Journals:
Complex developmental and transcriptional dynamics underlie pollinator-driven evolutionary transitions in nectar spur morphology in Aquilegia (columbine). Volume 109, Issue 9.
And I just released a Science IRL episode all about it.