Amazing Students

Anya Brown

Ph.D. student Anya Brown is passionate about scientific research and teaching, and is committed to continuing to conduct good, sound ecological science in an academic realm as well as creating an inclusive scientific community.

Hometown:

White Plains, New York

High School:

White Plains High School

Degree objective:

Ph.D.

Other degrees:

Master of Science from Cal State Northridge
Bachelor of Science from Brown University

Expected graduation:

May 2018

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

During my time at the University of Georgia, I have been studying community ecology on coral reefs. As part of my graduate school program, I’ve been exploring how stressful interactions with neighboring organisms can affect coral growth, survival and changes in their microbial community. Like humans, corals contain a rich microbial community (microbiome), which play important roles in the nutrient cycling and health of a coral. Additionally, because microbial communities have the potential to change at a faster rate than a coral can evolve, it is possible that some changes in the coral’s microbial community can aid in the adaptation of corals to stressful conditions. For example, microbes may help corals adapt to the presence of consistent, stressful interactions with neighboring organisms — which is something that I am excited to be researching. One of the “stressful neighbors” of corals that I study is quite unusual — it’s called a vermetid or a worm-snail. It doesn’t move, instead it uses a mucus net that looks like a spider’s web to collect particles in the water, and then eats the net and all of the net’s contents. The snails, through their nets, can decrease coral growth and survival.

My research takes me to the island of Moorea, French Polynesia, where I conduct my fieldwork on the coral reefs near the UC Berkley Gump Research Station. Although my field work is not at UGA, Moorea has been a wonderful place to work, and interact with professors and students from around the world as a representative of the Odum School of Ecology and the University of Georgia.

I am not sure if it counts as a highlight (but it was definitely memorable), a little over halfway through my Ph.D., the worm snails that I study experienced a massive die-off. The die-off event happened in a two-week period before my eyes and affected the island where I work, and all of the neighboring islands. Although not a highlight, per se, it was a remarkable and shocking thing to behold — how often does the object of a dissertation vanish before your eyes? It has been a lesson in “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Luckily (or unluckily) because I was in the field at the time, I was able to track the progress of the die-off, and since I had two projects in the field at the time, I am able to document the effects of the event on the reef community.

When not in the field or the lab, one of the highlights of my UGA experience has been the Women in Science (WiSci) group on campus. During my first year at UGA, another graduate student (Cecilia Sanchez) and I, along with a small group of students in our department started this group, which has grown leaps and bounds over the past three years. Our goal was to create a group that promotes equality in science and creates a space for a campus-wide network of people who support women in science. We were awarded Outstanding New Organization after the first year, and Cecilia and I recently wrote a Working Life piece in Science that highlighted our experience.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that one of the highlights of my time at UGA is the Odum School of Ecology. Our department encourages the input of graduate students, and I have been fortunate to help act as a liaison between graduate students and the graduate program committee and will be a liaison between the graduate students and the faculty. Additionally, we have a fantastic group of students who are not only great scientists, but are great people.

At UGA I have been fortunate enough to have had a graduate research assistant fellowship my first two years and have received an Odum Small Grant.

Current Employment:

Research Assistant/Teaching Assistant at the University of Georgia in the Odum School of Ecology.

Family Ties to UGA:

None — I’m the first person to attend UGA and I will be the first person in my family to earn a Ph.D.

I chose to attend UGA because…

I actually started my Ph.D. at the University of Florida, but in the beginning of my second year my advisor, Craig Osenberg, informed the lab that he accepted a job at the University of Georgia at the Odum School and asked us (there were six graduate students at the time) to move up to UGA with him. I decided that for me it made the most sense to move to UGA. Not only did I want to be in the same place as my advisor, but moving to UGA gave me the opportunity to work in a department with an amazing group of ecologists and coral reef scientists. Additionally, there are a lot of people working on microbial questions, which has created great opportunities for collaborations.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

… eating lunch in the Ecology courtyard or sitting by the turtle pond in between Ecology and Warnell.

When I have free time, I like…

… to walk around the botanical garden and sandy creek, swim, attempt to play tennis, kayak (when it is warm), visit friends and family and read non-academic books.

The craziest thing I've done is…

After two failed attempts at getting my absentee ballot, I rented a car and drove down to Florida to cast my vote on election day. I’m a believer in civic duty.

My favorite place to study is…

… in the botanical garden, next to the banana tree because it makes me feel like I am in the tropics.

My favorite professor is…

All of the Ecology professors are fantastic. Among my favorites are Craig Osenberg (my major advisor), Ford Ballantyne, John Wares and Courtney Murdoch — they are all super smart and really easy to talk to about anything, from science to the best place to get brunch in Athens.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

Living? Jane Lubchenco, she has been a science hero of mine for a long time.

Dead? Charles Darwin, I just wonder if he could imagine how far and how much influence his work had.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… become more active in the political sphere to advocate for science, equality and human rights.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

… travel more and often — there are so many places and things I would love to go and do! Go on a safari in South Africa, go diving in Indonesia, see lemurs in Madagascar, visit Antarctica and see penguins.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?

I am passionate about conducting scientific research and teaching, I am committed to continuing to conduct good, sound ecological science in an academic realm. I am also committed to creating an inclusive scientific community, which to me, means being part of groups like Women in Science or sharing my scientific research and experiences with non-scientists, or scientists from other disciplines.

After graduation, I plan to…

… work as a post-doc, and eventually become a professor.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

The WiSci Career Symposium in 2015. It was the culmination of a ton of work, and it was great to be able to interact with the panelists and workshop facilitators, as well as the participants during those days. It was during that symposium that I felt like WiSci had started to make a difference, was starting to accomplish the goals that we originally laid out. As one of the founders, it was extremely gratifying to see our group that started so small host a large, successful event — it made me feel like we created something that can have a big impact.

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