I was born and raised in Massachusetts, spending much of my childhood roaming around in the forest behind our house, that or reading comic books. I went on to Yale (it was much easier to get in then!) to study biology, and soon after developed a terrible crush on my ecology professor - never late for class, never missed a word said! - and soon after that developed an even bigger crush on ecology and evolutionary biology itself - nerd alert! I went on to get a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell, studying the evolution and genetics of fruitfly mating songs. I wish I could play you the delightful honking, bleating songs of the fruitflies I studied, but alas they’re trapped in ancient technology (floppy disks). You could listen to another fruitfly species’ song here but I warn you, it’s nothing musical like the crooners I studied. And if you can’t seem to get enough of fruitflies, you can find here my undergraduate research with Jeff Powell, a leader in evolutionary genetics and the last academic offspring of the great Theodosius Dobzhansky who said the justifiably famed words, “Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution”. And here and here some of my graduate research with my advisor, Chip Aquadro, one of the founders of the field of modern molecular population genetics and a really nice guy.
After grad school, I went on to an unusual post-doctoral position: the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Mass Media, Science and Engineering Fellowship. In this program, AAAS (the organization that publishes Science) takes disgruntled science graduate students from many different fields and plops them down into news outlets to write about science. I was sent to The Oregonian, Portland’s daily paper where, to my great surprise as I was not much of a news reader, I fell in love with news writing. But maybe it was inevitable after slaving away in grad school on a single project for 6 years. At a newspaper, I could flit from one vastly different idea or subject to the next, week by week, day by day, even hour by hour. What a glorious breath of fresh air compared with what could be the stultifying labor-camp, sensory-deprivation tank of graduate school. It was equally exciting to find that The Oregonian was in 1991 a stunningly diverse news room that included women, Asian-American, Native-American, Latino and Latina, African-American and openly gay journalists all working with an African-American editor-in-chief.
The following winter, I started writing for The New York Times as a news clerk in the science section until I left to become a regular and frequent contributor from afar here and afar there, lovely and interesting work where I was able to think and write about science for the Times, be edited by and interact with some really smart and cool people, and live wherever life took me. Thank you NYT.
Then in 2009, a longstanding fascination I’ve had with taxonomy - which everyone thinks is dull and fusty, but is actually a bizarre and ancient practice that reveals fundamental truths about what it is to be human - yes, really! - led to the publication of my book Naming Nature.
I’m currently at work on a novel and a book of essays.
I’ve lived for almost two decades in the wonderful town of Bellingham, Washington with my husband, Merrill Peterson, a biologist at Western Washington University, and our son. Our daughter has fledged and makes art. I write, I play with the family’s hypo-allergenic cat and I read (currently Syllabus by Lynda Barry, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Understanding American Football by Ed McCorduck and as always re-reading The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson). I like to go outside to look for animals, and I also spend a fair amount of time messing with my typewriter collection.