NV: What do you do?
Kris: I am a post-doctoral researcher at the NIH in a field called epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression that are not caused by changes in the DNA. Oftentimes, gene expression changes when there is a mutation, or a change in the DNA sequence, but there are other signals that can cause changes in gene expression without affecting the DNA. I am particularly interested in the signals that regulate the expression of certain genes related to the patterning of the body. I have developed an innovative system to study these signals in fruit flies.
NV: What is the most challenging part of what you do?
Kris: Time management. It is sometimes difficult to maintain my productivity while doing all the other things I do, like writing papers and participating in societies. I have to be careful not to bite off more than I can chew.
NV: When did you first become interested in science?
Kris: As a kid, I was really interested in dinosaurs and I loved pop-up books about human anatomy, space and astronomy.
NV: What’s the most common misconception about scientists?
Kris: That they are stuffy, antisocial and awkward. Much of what the public thinks about scientists comes from stereotypes seen on TV and in the movies. While some scientists may fit that mold, most scientists would seem like everyday people if you met them at a party or on the street.
I am in contact with hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists, and I can tell you that the community is full of smart, well-adjusted, and well-dressed folks! We go out to restaurants, plan social trips to tour DC landmarks, and drink beer in pubs, all without making a geeky scene. Yes, we are regular people who just happen to do research as a job.
NV: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in advocacy and/or outreach?
Kris: I became very interested in advocacy when I heard The Honorable John Edward Porter speak at the 2008 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston. He made it clear that strong support for research in the US is crucial for keeping our economy strong into the future, while providing critical benefits to other sectors. He also made it clear that the public and Congress don't understand this, which must be changed. Scientists should be playing a much bigger role here!
I always take advantage of any opportunity to explain to non-scientists the value of both basic science and applied research, making sure to explain that many basic research discoveries payoff 5, 10, or even 20 years down the road.
I also debunk political attacks on so-called wasteful research projects that may seem to be inconsequential if you only do a quick read of the title. Attacks like the YouCut campaign launched by Eric Cantor just mislead the public, who may not be familiar with the rigorous grant review process and the long-term benefits of research.
If you want to become involved in advocacy, find a subject that you can speak about honestly. Get involved with advocacy groups like Research!America-- this is a great place to spend your energy to make a difference. And contact your representatives to let them know what is important to you.