Cool Girls with Tag: biology

Stephanie Smith

Name: Stephanie Smith
Age: 26
Location: Seattle, Washington
Occupation: Ph.D. Candidate and teaching assistant, Department of Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle

Ph.D. candidate and illustrator Stephanie Smith was a natural born biologist. She spent her childhood rifling around the dirt for treasures like “tiny frogs, raccoons, mushrooms, cicada shells, worms, and wild strawberries.”

Those fledgling years in Newark, Ohio sparked her passion, which she now channels in her teaching assistantship and studies at the Department of Biology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“When I went to college I was originally interested in paleoanthropology, but I took a mammal evolution class my second semester and that was what really got me interested in fossil mammals in general,” Stephanie explains. “I asked the professor if I could work in his lab and he took me on to wash and organize mammal fossils, and to sort through fossiliferous sediment (read: dirt with tiiiiiny fossils in it) under a microscope. That volunteer position was the thing that really started to get me excited about studying mammals.”

The summer following her sophomore year of college offered her an opportunity to do field work in the Bighorn Basin in Wyoming with Ken Rose and his field crew.

“On our first day out collecting fossils, I remember I found a jaw of a tiny horse (Hyracotherium) with three teeth in it, and I think I decided that day that I wanted to do this forever,” she says.

These days, much of Stephanie’s time is dedicated to completing her Ph.D. dissertation and illustrating things she finds interesting in nature.

“I’m working with a bunch of collaborators right now on a manuscript of one of my dissertation chapters, where we’re looking at changes in the type and relative abundance of different kinds of mammals on the landscape right after the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction, which is the one that wiped out all dinosaurs except birds,” she says.

In the classroom, Stephanie is assisting a class on the evolution of mammals, and much of her lesson planning includes illustrating what’s taught.

“I get to draw these big mural-type figures on the board for my students when I teach about them. I find that using simplified line drawings and flow-charts can help my students grasp complicated concepts, especially people who are very visual learners,” she explains.

Beyond the classroom, Stephanie has designed the t-shirt for the Discoveries in Geoscience (DIG) Field School, once again using her artistic talent combined with her love of paleontology.

The DIG is a free professional development opportunity where K-12 STEM teachers come join our research team in the field for four days of research experience and hijinks. I’ve been a field instructor for the DIG for five years and it’s one of my favorite things to be involved in because of how excited the teachers get about paleontology!”

In the future, Stephanie hopes to get a job working in a natural history museum where she could ideally do her research, write grants, and use her illustration skills to inform and inspire the public about science.

“Science communication is really important to me, and illustration lets me inject more creativity and personality into the process,” she says.

And beyond that personality powering her paleontological prowess, what message does Stephanie hope to communicate to young women stoked by science?

“Don’t be afraid to go out and learn new things for yourself! You can learn about a million things just by observing what’s going on in the world around you, and asking questions and investigating. Learning is not just a thing that happens in a classroom.”

Very cool advice from a very cool girl! Thanks, Stephanie, and best of luck with your dissertation!

Some internet offerings if you’re looking to check out Stephanie in action on Instagram, Twitter, or her website.


Allyson Lister

Name: Allyson Lister
Age: 35
Location: Newcastle, UK
Occupation: PhD Student and Researcher in Bioinformatics

Allyson Lister grew up fascinated by space. But unlike most kids who dream of becoming an astronaut, Allyson was more specific, hoping to one day become a doctor in the cosmos. Perhaps her natural inclination to lean towards something that united both science and technology was a sign of what was to come. “Once I was old enough to understand what biology was, I realized that’s where my interests were,” she says.

Growing up in Monterey Bay, California, Allyson grew up playing on a Commodore 64, a Nintendo Entertainment System, and an old IBM computer. Her mother instructed her on the art of typing, and her father taught her how to write simple programs, including how to print out her name over and over again under DOS. Her parents’ encouragement stoked her love of technology, and these early computer systems lay the groundwork for her future interests.

Allyson’s love of biology also started young, after she received a Christmas gift of a microscope. “Mr. Clark, my biology teacher in high school, was one of the greatest inspirations to me, and solidified my interest in the science,” Allyson reveals. “It wasn’t until graduate school, and my Masters in Bioinformatics, that I realized I could combine my love of biology with the capabilities of a computer.” 

Today, Allyson’s job is to cultivate useful, precise communication when it comes to biological data. If data can’t be cohesively described and shared, it’s ineffective. So Allyson uses something called ontologies to help researchers to be able to work together and speak a common language when it comes to that data. These ontologies also help computers process and analyze the same information. She also uses the Internet and social networks online in order to share the latest research and news with the scientific community as a whole.

For Allyson’s work, communication is key, and ontologies are like the key-ring. “To ensure everyone is talking about the same thing, you build ontologies and share them, creating a common basis of understanding,” she explains. “You can build an ontology of whatever topic you want: cars, movies, biological pathways. They’re what dictionaries or thesauri dream of being: ontologies define words by relating them to other words, and by placing constraints on those relationships. They’re used to precisely describe data with the aim of preventing misunderstandings, either by humans or computers.”

Outside of work, Allyson is an avid swimmer who also knits and enjoys geocaching, hiking, and computer games. She has also worked with a variety of educational programs, including some that have given her the opportunity to explain bioinformatics and genetics to elementary school students.

With such a large amount of data in the world, and thousands of researchers adding to that huge pool of information every day, Allyson’s expertise is in high demand. She spends much of her time in front of her computer, creating experiments and analyzing data that will further enhance new concepts in biology. “Facilitating the communication of scientific data is key to the advancement of science, and it is a integral part of doing science that every researcher should think about,” Allyson says.

For proving that ladies can kick butt on a computer while being in the scientific sphere, we think Allyson Lister is a very Cool Girl!

Check out more of Allyson’s endeavors on her blog – The Mind Wobbles – or on Twitter @allysonlister

If you’re interested in learning more about ontologies, check out the article “What is an Ontology?” More information on open access and open data for science can be found at and

Joanne Manaster

Joanne Manaster
Age: 45
Location: Champaign, IL
Occupation: University Biology Lecturer for students studying for their Masters of Science in Teaching Biology

As a shy, introverted child, Joanne Manaster wanted to become an astronomer and, later, a doctor, but before she was old enough to drive she was working as a model. “I think it would have taken me longer to overcome my shyness if I weren’t discovered for modeling when I was fourteen,” she says. “And my sense of style was definitely lacking before that point, too!” Now she is one of the more prominent Internet personalities when it comes to science, with her own website, Joanne Loves Science, that’s home to book reviews, fun field tests, and something that’s been dubbed “Gummi Bear Science.”

“Basically, a college student once asked me if a Gummi Bear could be liquefied with ultrasonic sound waves. We gave it a try and it worked. Once I began making videos, I ran across the Gummi Bear in potassium chlorate video and decided to create one about sonication. Multiple ideas have emerged since then. I thought people might like to learn a little bit more about how scientists do various things in their lab and also that scientific properties explain everything around us. Gummi Bears are no different,” she explains. She’s currently working on another web video featuring the sweets, where she’s using Gummi Bears to investigate the density of objects.

Continue reading Joanne Manaster