Women in Science - Dr Emily Larson

I am a postdoctoral researcher in Mike Blatt’s lab. I study how endomembranes are organized and how vesicles transport cargo to the plasma membrane. I use plants in my research, which are great model systems because they are fast-growing, I can look at cells in situ without disturbing the organism, and there are a lot of molecular tools readily available like mutants, fluorescent protein fusion constructs, and the ability to stably or transiently express genes of interest in multiple plant cell types.

I wasn’t always involved in plant science, but I have always been interested in the scientific process. I attended Bennington College in the US where I studied broadly as part of their liberal arts education philosophy. This isn’t common in the UK, but small schools like Bennington provide the opportunity to study without choosing a main field – which meant I took history, art, dance, literature, and science courses. For me, this encouraged creative expression and problem solving, and helped me to appreciate more of my academic environment. I highly encourage a liberal arts education if you’re thinking about a career in science because it really pushes the limits of your perspective on education and academia.

After I graduated, I worked for several years as a technician at MIT in Cambridge MA and then at the University of Washington in Seattle WA. While I really enjoyed being in the lab full time, I became increasingly frustrated with the limitations of technical lab work and decided to attend graduate school at the University of Vermont in the Cell Molecular and Biomedical Sciences Program. I chose to work in Mary Tierney’s lab to study how vesicle trafficking affects polarized growth in Arabidopsis root hairs, which was my introduction to the wonderful world of plant science.

I moved to Glasgow to start my postdoc here at the University of Glasgow with Prof. Blatt in 2013. It was a challenge to move to a new country, get through the immigration process, and build a community of my own. While it’s common to be a foreigner in the international community of the uni, it’s harder to make connections outside of the lab without feeling a bit out of place. I am grateful that I have a partner who helps keep me grounded and to explore this new place with me. I think scientists struggle finding space for ourselves or for other things outside of the priority we place on lab work, which is compounded with the anxiety of navigating new cultures and languages (even as a native English speaker, I struggle with the native dialect). For me, having friends to meet outside the lab and a happy place to call home helps me maintain perspective and work towards managing my work and personal lives. I don’t believe a “work-life balance” exists, at least for me, and prefer to think about how to feel good about what I spend my time on, whether it’s running experiments in the lab, traveling, walking around town, reading and writing about science, or making dinner.

My academic interests lean towards science education and I feel that living abroad has helped me gain perspective on all the different ways we come to science, which I hope will make me a better educator and mentor.