Dr. Elizabeth Stacy is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. She received her Masters degree in Botany from the University of Georgia and her PhD in Biology from Boston University. She then completed postdoctoral research at Concordia University in Canada before joining the faculty at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Elizabeth is with us today to tell us all about her journey through life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science
Elizabeth works a lot because she loves what she does, but when she’s not hard at work you can find her gardening, exercising, and writing/singing country music (sometimes with awesome science lyrics!).
The Scientific Side
She studies speciation in trees and answers the question of where do tree species come from. There are approximately 100,000 species of trees in the world, and we don’t know much about how they got there.
A Dose of Motivation
“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” by Thomas Edison.
What Got You Hooked on Science?
Elizabeth wanted to be a biologist for as far back as she can remember and admits to being a particularly nerdy kid. She enjoyed watching nature documentaries and science shows on TV with her father. Elizabeth was drawn to the final frontiers of exploration on earth, and was torn between studying the rain forests or the deep oceans. It looks like the trees won her over!
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges
We hear about one of Elizabeth’s early failures when the first paper she submitted was rejected. Her advisor actually congratulated her, and it was one of those “welcome to the club” moments.
A Shining Success!
One of the things she loves about science is discovering something new. They have discovered that a species of trees in Oahu, is likely seriously inbred and does not reproduce well on its own. While it is exciting to learn new things about the world, there is sometimes a sad side. In this case climate change is having a large impact on Oahu and inbreeding could be detrimental the survival of that tree species.
Speciation by Jerry A. Coyne and H. Allen Orr
Most Treasured Travel
Elizabeth shared some of her fond memories of Sri Lanka where she lived there for 16 months. It was wonderful to meet people and see how they lived, and she saw her first and only wild leopard there. There were a few unfortunate run-ins with leeches, but they couldn’t dampen her enthusiasm for the beautiful beaches and mountains.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories
Her masters advisor was a hooker (he made his own rugs). It was a really special occasion when someone graduated from the lab, and he would present the student with a hand-made, framed rug that he had made for them with designs particularly related to the student and their research.
Advice For Us All
If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.
Elizabeth is fascinated by biodiversity and its origins. Her interest in nature started very early and led her to a B.S. in Biology (Preveterinary Medicine actually) and Wildlife Science (Minor) from the Pennsylvania State University. Shortly after graduation, she spent 3 months in the Peruvian Amazon assisting a study on the ecology of the Brazil nut tree, which piqued her interest in tropical tree diversity. During her M.S. Work, Elizabeth studied mating patterns within low-density populations of Neotropical trees. Later, for her Ph.D., she examined distance-dependent cross-fertility and genetic structure in rainforest trees in Sri Lanka. Elizabeth extended this work as a Postdoctoral Associate at Concordia University in Montreal, where she also taught introductory biology at local colleges. At the University of Hawaii Hilo, Elizabeth’s research centers on the dominant tree genus Metrosideros as a model for understanding how speciation works in trees. Her teaching centers on the areas of evolution, research design, and biodiversity for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students in the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science Program. Her lab is very active in outreach to the K-12 community and spawned the NGO, Ho`oulu Lehua, whose mission is to inspire growth in the native forests and youth of Hawai`i.