Carolina Piña-Páez

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Carolina Piña Páez grew up in Hermosillo, Sonora, México. She is currently doing research on the Madrean Sky Islands of Arizona and Mexico. Her advisor is Joey Spatafora. 

Tell us about your project! 

My project combines fieldwork and laboratory experiments to unravel past climate change cycles’ effects on Rhizopogon and their hosts (Pinaceae) in the Madrean Sky Islands of the Southwestern US and Northwestern Mexico. Specifically, I’m studying how Rhizopogon salebrosus has migrated with its hosts and how isolation and environment is shaping its evolutionary trajectory.

What awards would you like to brag about?

I’ve been fortunate to have received scholarships from multiple mushroom societies from North America:

  • 2019 Ben Woo Scholarship – Puget Sound Mycological Society
  • 2019 Anita Summers award – Botany and Plant Pathology, Oregon State University
  • 2018 Oregon Mycological Society award
  • 2018 Sonoma County Mycological Association scholarship
  • 2016-2020 CONACYT scholarship recipient for PhD studies
  • 2013 Henry Pavelek Memorial Scholarship – North American Truffling Society

What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done your current position?

My ultimate career goal is to become a professor at a university. I’d love to teach classes in combination with research and fieldwork.  Probably the next step for me is a postdoc position. I’m particularly interested in how recombination impacts genetic diversity.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

It has to be a truffle! Rhizopogon is the closest to my heart, as it was my first truffle but also it’s the protagonist of my PhD project. Rhizopogon salebrosus sporocarps feed a lot of small mammals in the forest, as well as playing a crucial role in seedling establishment after disturbance (like the fires that the West Coast is experiencing right now).

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

Their ability to survive and acquire food from many different sources. Just think about all the different trophic modes present in the Kingdom Fungi! 

Who is your mycology role model?

Jim Trappe

Any great stories from field work?

In 2018, we were in Mexico sampling truffles and collecting soil for greenhouse experiments.  Tláloc was generous, and we had a great year collecting with more than 200 Rhizopogon specimens found. We isolated some cultures in the airbnb, and the soil samples were triple-bagged— as indicated by the USDA—we had a transportation permit, everything was seemingly in order.  The original plan was that Aldo Saldaña, my friend and collaborator, would take us to the airport in Tucson. When we were crossing the border in Nogales, AZ, there was something wrong with the permit…they said that the samples needed to be sent to El Paso, TX, where they could potentially be destroyed!  I asked if there was a possibility that Aldo could take the samples back to México, buying some time, so we could fulfill the requirement that was missing (a heads up email to the border patrol 22 days prior the border crossing). They allowed Aldo to take the samples back, and problem 1 was resolved! Then, we had to figure out how to get to the airport, since our ride was now going back to Mexico with our samples. We walked to the closest gas station in the pouring rain and we experienced the fury of the monsoon. Finally,  we were able to book a shuttle back to Tucson. Once safe at home in Oregon, I sent the infamous email to the US Customs & Border Patrol Agriculture Specialist. Then a return trip a month later meant that I was able to cross the samples without issue.

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

Cooking is one of my biggest passions, I also enjoy beadwork and to learn new weaving techniques.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

I’m actively looking for a Post doc position, if you’re looking for a new postdoc, send me an email:

Kirsten Gotting

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Kirsten Gotting is from Portland, Oregon. She is doing her PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her current advisor is Cameron Currie.

Tell us about your project!

I’m really interested in evolution and diversification, and how symbiosis plays a role in these processes. The system I work on is the fungus-growing ant-microbe symbiosis. More specifically, I work on the specialized mycoparasite Escovopsis, which consumes the fungus that the ants cultivate. One of the cool things about fungus-growing ants is that they have been growing fungus for 55 million years, which for perspective was around when the dinosaurs went extinct. We don’t know when Escovopsis specialized on the fungus-growing ant cultivar, but we do know that it parasitizes almost every type of fungus-growing ant agriculture and there are specific species of Escovopsis that infect the different agricultures. I’m excited to learn more about the evolution of this parasite and how it has adapted and differentiated across ant agriculture.

What are your career goals/plans?

I came for my PhD because I really want to be a group leader some day. I love everything about basic research and can’t imagine a better job! My second choice would be some sort of data analysis project manager; data analysis and visualization is one of my favorite things on the job.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

This is so hard for me, so I’m going to name a couple. First off, the flagellated fungi that live in cow guts. I just find them absolutely fascinating, especially since when I think of flagellated fungi, chytrids and dead amphibians mostly come to mind. But the idea of having a mutualist with similar morphology in ruminant guts dispels that image for me and brings up a bunch of questions: How did they get there? How did they survive in early ruminant guts? How have they adapted to that environment?

I also am also obsessed with rust fungi; the complexity of their developmental life histories amazes me in so many ways. They create so many unique structures and have so many hosts, what’s not to love? There’s also a ton of cedar apple rust on all of the apple trees in Madison right now (early September), and while the telia are beautiful, the shape of them low-key triggers my gag reflex.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

Definitely soy sauce. But also how little we know about them. There are so many species to discover, life histories to unravel, and interactions to manipulate that I could study them for twenty lifetimes and still have more questions. I also get really inspired by the range of research that people do with fungi, it seems like they are the perfect models for so many things how could you not want to dive in!

Who is your mycology role model?

This one’s super easy for me: Anne Pringle! I’ve never told her this, but when I was in undergrad, my Ecology professor Bitty Roy showed us a video of Anne doing her multi-year experimental survey on gravestone lichens. I remember thinking to myself, “Gosh it would be so cool to get to be like her some day!” and now I get to learn from Anne because she is on my committee! I’m so grateful that Bitty showcased women scientists in her classes. I got to reconnect with Bitty through the MSA because we were both at the meeting in 2019. I honestly never saw myself getting to the place in my life where I would get to do a PhD, so having these “full circle” moments with people I admire brings me more joy than anything else.

Any great stories from field work (funny/interesting/something that stuck out to you)?

Some of the fungus growing ants that we study live underground, so you have to dig an approximately two foot hole to find their nests. On my first field trip in Georgia, we were on our last day of digging ants and were trying to get as many colonies as we could. Currie lab postdoc Hongjie always “hit nest” first, but this time I was barely half way through digging my hole when he called out that he had gotten one. I couldn’t believe how fast he had finished! It felt like the further I dug, the harder it was getting for me. I asked him to come help me dig, and when he did, he exclaimed “This is like digging a rock!” Fortunately, teamwork got us to the ants by alternating digging until we got the nest. I later I come to find that the soil in the rest of the area was very soft in comparison, almost like sand, and I was kicking myself for picking a spot with really dense soil to start off with.

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

I read year round and in the winter I crochet while watching trash television. My favorite book I read this year was “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula Leguin, it’s the first book in a while that I feel strongly compelled to read again. Ursula built up the story and alien culture in such an interesting way that actually made me want to experience the cold dark planet, which would normally terrify me mostly because I don’t like the cold. In the summer, I like to get outside, but this summer has been challenging. Luckily, I found a new passion in SUP! In Madison we are fortunate enough to be within a couple miles of three lakes, so it makes for the perfect setting for pandemic era socializing.

Anything else you’d like to talk about?

One thing that I am really interested in is the history of genetics and specifically how it has harmed marginalized groups. I am getting my PhD through the Genetics Training Program at UW Madison, and one thing that struck me in my required course work was that there wasn’t any mention of eugenics or eugenics perpetrators, who are often the same people who contributed to foundational genetics principles. I had the same kind of feeling throughout my undergraduate coursework. This knowledge gap in many genetics classes really frustrated me. I felt like the whole curriculum that I had partaken in over the years ignored the socio-political impacts of how eugenics was a large start of genetics research in the US and shaped a lot of governmental policy. I knew that there had to be other students out there that were frustrated by the lack of acknowledgement of how much harm this field can have, and that it may have pushed those students away from science and genetics.

When the civil rights protests began this summer, I felt incredibly motivated to try to make a change in my department. I got in touch with faculty in the department and suggested that there could be an entire class on how genetics has shaped policy that harms marginalized groups and that these topics should be in every class. I’m really happy to say that the faculty fully supported the idea and are now integrating these topics into their coursework, whether it be naming perpetrators in the field, or including case studies where genetics directly harmed marginalized groups. In addition, a peer and I put together a reading group with a focus on scientific accountability where we highlight specific instances where genetics has done harm, or how we can improve our genetics pedagogy to be more inclusive. So far, it’s been a really great space where faculty and students have gathered to talk about these topics. I’m really excited to see where it goes in the next year. Thus far, we’ve already started a focus group to dig up information about how our genetics department connected to eugenics in the early 1900’s. I can’t wait to see what else comes from it and hope that departments at other universities adopt similar integrations of historical perspectives into their coursework. I’m not sure what the long lasting impact of this will be, but I hope that it helps serves as a start to greater change.

Savannah Gentry

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Savannah Gentry grew up in Port Neches (Texas) and Klamath Falls (Oregon). She is currently doing research at Madison, Wisconsin with Anne Pringle.

Tell us about your project!

I work with fungal pathogens of wildlife and have found that two pathogens responsible for infectious diseases in snakes and lizards (snake fungal disease and yellow fungal disease, respectively) can infect other animals. 

Stemming from the results of that experiment, I’m currently interested in creating a project to identify keratinases (specialized enzymes that degrade keratin) and other degradation enzymes that are activated when the fungi interact with different substrate treatments. In short, I want to understand if these suite of activated enzymes could be pathogenicity factors.

What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done your current position?

My career goal would be to land a position that allows me to continue to do work with fungal pathogens and community-based research dealing with access to education and socioeconomic inequity.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

Cat’s Tongue (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum) because of how they feel and they can be candied – a textured and sugar snack wrapped up in one fungus.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

Two things: 1) how much we don’t know about fungi, even ones that are considered well-studied are constantly revealing new things and 2) their versatility as pathogens, degraders, mutualists, parasites, etc., one fungus can fall into multiple categories at the slightest environmental difference and I find that extraordinary.

Who is your mycology role model?

For me that has never been one person but multiple people whether they are my peers or people that have been in the field for decades, I find speaking with other mycologists inspires me to stay curious about the world. However, if I have to name names, there are few people I’ve met that can identify mushrooms like Alden Dirks can.

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

I’m a big gamer, so in my free time I enjoy both video games and tabletop games. My main hobby is drawing and use that as my main avenue to relieve stress. Check out my instagram @kawaiifungi!

Anything else you’d like to talk about, leave here! (career goals, outreach, science communication, photography, etc).

It’s important that scientists do not separate themselves from the general public or their own communities. In order to stay connected, unite others, and share the wonderful world of mycology, connections are important. So, be active in your community and build those connections; it’s never just about the science.

Alden Dirks


Alden Dirks is from Coatesville, Pennsylvania. He is currently doing research with Dr. Tim James in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Tell us about your project!

Gyromitrin is an acute toxin and potent carcinogen that is found in some mushrooms, particularly false morel mushrooms (Gyromitra spp.). The product of gyromitrin metabolism, monomethylhydrazine, is infamous for also being a component of rocket fuel, which is as bad for you as it sounds like it would be. You’d think this would be a deterrent to the consumption of false morels. However, in Finland, the highly poisonous Gyromitra esculenta is widely harvested and consumed as a delicacy after first being prepared with a laborious parboiling and washing procedure to rid it of the majority of its gyromitrin. In Michigan there is also a culture of consuming certain false morel species, but these appear to be less toxic than the European species. But are they really? Despite its importance as a mycotoxin, we still don’t know which species produce gyromitrin or how much of it. False morels belong to a taxonomic family sister to that of the true morels (Morchella spp.). True morels should always be cooked thoroughly, in part because they are poisonous to many people when eaten raw, and these symptoms are strikingly similar to those caused by gyromitrin (although less severe). Our aim is to first determine which morel species (both true and false) contain gyromitrin, then find the genes responsible for its synthesis, and finally elucidate its evolutionary origin and history of horizontal gene transfer, if any. Along the way, we hope to formulate a set of best foraging practices for mushroom hunters in Michigan so that people can avoid gyromitrin exposure.

Awards you’d like to brag about?

At the end of my senior year at Swarthmore College, the Biology department awarded me the “Leo M. Leva Memorial Prize”, which recognizes undergraduates whose work shows “exceptional promise for future societal impact”. I strive to live up to this recognition!

What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done your current position?

I feel like infinity lies between me and the end of my current position, but at the end of the universe I might teach mycology and conduct research on fungal taxonomy and biodiversity at a small liberal arts or community college; or have a restorative agroforestry operation where I cultivate truffles, grow mushrooms, and raise sheep or goats; or maybe open a restaurant and a fungus-focused storefront.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

One of my favorites is Ganoderma applanatum, the artist’s conk – but not because you can draw on it. Rather, this mushroom is host to forked fungus beetles (Bolitotherus cornutus), which can live on the same shelf for about a decade and have a lifespan of up to 20 years (or so I’ve heard). I once had a pet artist’s conk with pet forked fungus beetles. Unfortunately, there are no blogs or help pages on taking care of forked fungus beetles. Needless to say, they didn’t live up to their long lifespan. But I’m confident next time things will go better and we will grow old together.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

The longevity and extent of the humongous fungus, the oldest and largest organism on earth, never ceases to amaze me.

Who is your mycology role model?

Barbara Mosse and Charles McIlvaine

Any great stories from field work (funny/interesting/something that stuck out to you)?

I collected a hearty bunch of jelly fungus to eat. Of course, mushrooms are best fried, so that’s what I did to this mushroom. I was soon screaming and running out the kitchen dodging hot bits of oily jelly fungus as the chopped up mushroom began exploding out of the pan! Pro tip: don’t fry jelly fungus.

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

I love to dance salsa and bachata!

Anything else you’d like to share?

I have the lifelong goal of eating 1001 species of mushroom (a one-up on Charles McIlvaine). You can read about my discoveries and eats at my website, I also have a soft spot for crust fungi, which are ecologically important as saprotrophs and ectomycorrhizae, but are poorly studied. As a side project, I am developing a website called that I hope to build into the MushroomExpert of crusts.

Gillian Bergmann

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Gillian Bergmann is from Portland, Oregon. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University in the spring of 2019, and now works as a faculty research assistant (lab technician) for Dr. Posy Busby and Dr. Jared LeBoldus in OSU’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology.

Tell us about your project

I am currently working on characterizing the wood mycobiome of black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) as part of a study on how the wood microbiome to plant genotype and resistance/susceptibility to the pathogen Sphaerulina musiva. So far, the project has been a great learning experience for me in creating a large metabarcode library for high-throughput sequencing. On the side, I am also characterizing the fungal seed endophytes of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) using high-throughput sequencing for comparison against the culture-based characterization I did in my undergraduate thesis.
Awards you would like to brag about

This past summer, I received the MSA Undergraduate Research Award for my poster presentation about my undergraduate thesis at the MSA meeting in Minneapolis! It was my first time presenting at a national conference, so I am honored to have received this award.
What are your career goals/plans for after you are done with your current position?

I have applied for Ph.D. programs in Ecology to start in the fall of 2020. I hope that I’ll be able to conduct my graduate research on seed mycobiome assembly, and the potential roles of seed fungi in plant responses to disturbances compounded by climate change (e.g. wildfire, drought). My long-term goal is to be a professor of fungal ecology, so I’m looking forward to this next step in my training.
What is your favorite fungus and why?

My favorite fungus is Pseudohydnum gelatinosum, also known as the cat’s tongue jelly fungus. I like this fungus because it’s a jelly fungus with tooth- shaped hymenophore, and because it’s jiggly and edible. I’ve tried candying them, as suggested by Arora, and would like to try them in honey and cream next!
What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

I’m sure a lot of mycologists say this, but one of my favorite facts about fungi is that we’ve only documented a small fraction of the world’s total fungal diversity. This shows that we still have so much to learn about/from fungi, and I’m excited to be a part of it.
Who is your mycology role model?

My three role models are Dr. Posy Busby, Dr. Joey Spatafora, and Dr. Ed Barge. They all mentored me at various stages in my undergraduate thesis research, and they’ve inspired me with their passion for mycological research and for fungi in general.
Any great stories from field work?

This past fall, I helped a graduate student in the Busby Lab with field collections across multiple locations in Oregon and Washington. My favorite moment during these collections was when I stopped for lunch in one of our Oregon sites. I sat down amongst the undergrowth on the hill where we were working, and watched some birds flying between the r trees as the clouds cleared to reveal a beautiful view of the surrounding hills. This peaceful moment reminded me that the goal of ecology is to better understand (and even appreciate) the land and its diverse ecosystems, and cemented my desire to do field work in my own graduate research.
What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

I’m an avid cyclist and bike racer, so much of my free time is spent riding my bike. I also enjoy singing with the Jubilate Women’s Choir of Corvallis, baking, reading, hiking, playing board games, and going on mushroom forays or road trips with my boyfriend.
Anything else you would like to share? You can follow me on Instagram at Ingrid_blv426,
where I share my adventures in fungal ecology and cycling. I also have a professional website where I blog about my experiences as an early-career scientist and share research updates. You can check it out at

Sara Getson

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Sara Getson hails originally from State College, Pennsylvania where she received bachelor’s degrees in Plant Science and French Language. She is currently a master’s student in her final year studying under Dr. Mary Hausbeck at Michigan State University.

Tell us about your project!
So, I am really excited to be working on two different crops; Asparagus in Michigan and ginseng in Wisconsin and the Fusarium species affecting these systems. After nearly 30 years since the last survey of Fusarium species found in Michigan asparagus fields, my research is focusing on creating a new baseline for this pathogen for our growers. This is important because asparagus may take 2-3 years of establishment in a field before a harvest may be taken, consequently, if Fusarium isn’t managed effectively, it could mean a significantly reduced yield and revenue for our growers. To do this, I sampled crowns from a variety of growers and cultured them in order to get an idea of what species were present. This data will be able to help researchers focus management strategies on these most prevalent Fusaria. The other portion of my project centers on Fusarium species found in the ginseng perennial system as well. Ginseng is a high value crop and (like asparagus) may take a number of years to fully mature, thus pathogen management from the start is critical. Again, in order to manage this pathogen, we first need a baseline for what we might expect to find and control. This is where my survey project fits in, in order to develop that baseline data.It’s really super exciting to see all of the different morphological structures for each of these species!

Awards you would like to brag about?
I was the American Phytopathological Society National Meeting recipient of the Efrat Gamliel-Atinsky and Joseph P. Fulton Joint Student Travel Award in 2019! I also received a scholarship from the Michigan Vegetable Council in 2018 at the Great Lakes fruit and vegetable Expo and a Beneke Award recipient from Michigan State University Plant Pathology Program in December, 2017 😊

What are your career goals/plans for after you are done with your current
After completing my master’s degree in a vegetable pathology lab, I will be returning home to Pennsylvania to co-manage a fruit farm and get some experience in fruits production in the state! Eventually, my long-term goal is to work for Penn State extension as an extension educator to work collaboratively with the university and with our growers to solve the challenges of the current day.

What is your favorite fungus and why?
My favorite fungus is Armillaria mellea (the honey mushroom!). This one has particular meaning for me since I would go mushroom hunting with my dad since I was pretty young and it is the first one I ever learned how to identify. It’s also super good when cooked well! 😊

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?
My favorite thing about fungi is how many roles they can play in our environment, from helping trees and plants to grow better and faster (mycorrhizae), to plant rust diseases with intricate life cycles, to phenomenal decomposers!

Who is your mycology role model?
Hmmmm, this is kind of a tough one… I suppose I would have to go with Gerlach and Nirenberg who compiled incredible illustrations of Fusarium conidia and morphological structures.

Any great stories from field work?
Well, let’s just say that ginseng gardens require rather tall boots 😉

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
Basically everything, haha! I love ballroom dancing, rock climbing, baking, cooking, gardening, mushroom hunting, reading, and a whole host of other things!

Anything else you’d like to talk about?
I really love teaching and it’s been a lot of fun to work with the Midwest Mycology Information program in Michigan to lecture for their mushroom hunting certification courses. This program is the first of its kind and helps to better inform those who wish to collect wild mushrooms and sell to restaurants and farmer’s markets for example!

Regina Bledsoe

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Regina Bledsoe grew up in a small town on the South Louisiana Gulf Coast. She is currently doing her research at East Carolina University Greenville, NC.
Tell us about your project!
While soil may seem lifeless to most, below-ground plant roots, fungi, and bacteria (and other organisms) are living life to the fullest below the surface. Whether we can see it or not, these below ground plant and microbial activities play a huge role in global biogeochemical processes. My current research is investigating impacts of long-term disturbance and fertilization on plant and soil microbial community diversity and how changes in community diversity impact wetland carbon storage. Human activities have increased deposition of nitrogen and phosphorus in unintended ecosystems such as wetlands which store a majority of Earth’s carbon. Because carbon has such a vital role in global climate processes, it is important for us to understand how different ecosystems will respond to continual nutrient deposition. Historically low-nutrient wetlands, like the one I am studying, are potential carbon sinks but are also particularly sensitive to increases in nutrient availability and can become sources. I am using a combination of genomic sequencing and metabolic assays to better understand how plant, fungal and bacterial community composition and function shift due to prolonged fertilization. Insights from this project will help inform future studies within the lab addressing potential mechanisms for C cycling in wetlands.
Awards you would like to brag?
NSF GRFP recipient and 2019 MSA Backus Award!
What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done your current position?
Between now and finishing my doctoral degree next spring, I hope to find a post-doctoral position that allows me to explore more culture based methods of examining plant-microbial interactions to better understand how shifts in microbial community members impact plant growth. I am particularly interested how fertilization shifts plant-microbial interactions from cooperative to competitive.
What is your favorite fungus and why?
My interest in fungus started through my stomach so I have to go with Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s mane). Its unique toothy pom makes it easy for a novice to identify making this one of the first wild mushrooms I foraged. And it is delicious! A little butter and aptly applied Maillard reaction with a dash of lemon juice makes a tasty meal.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?
Among the amazing things fungi do, when exposed to UV mushrooms produce vitamin D, similar to animal skin. This makes them a rare dietary source of non-animal, unfortified vitamin D.

Who is your mycology role model?
My fungal eureka was only a couple of years ago after I attended a mushroom cultivation workshop led by mycologist Tradd Cotter. He was clearly passionate about fungi and teaching people how to access this wonderful resource. At his workshop, he not only discussed edibles and cultivation but also how he is experimenting with fungal cultures to answer his own research questions. Oh the possibilities! Much thanks to him for his introduction into the world of mycology.

Any great stories from field work (funny/interesting/something that stuck out to you)?
Have you ever done something stupid and while it was happening (usually about 5 seconds of stupidity) time slows down to a crawl and you see it in slow motion? Trucked loaded with sampling gear, I arrived at our field site a little earlier than everyone else. Then in about 5 seconds, I threw my keys on the dash and promptly hopped out, locked the door, and slammed it shut as my eyes made contact with the keys on the dash. Doh! We were only about 20 minutes from main campus and campus police would assist. I didn’t feel awkward when I had to explain to the police that we were in an overgrown field and he should drive in to a dead end and then get out and I would walk him to my truck in the field. I totally thought I sounded creepy and suspicious but he showed up a few minutes later and he quickly freed the field equipment and my keys. Thankfully the rest of the day was flawless!

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
I like growing plants and mushrooms. But not just any plants, I tend towards wild natives that I have collected the seeds for. We often do not need to look far for beauty in nature but only open our eyes and see it. Two of my favorite South East natives to grow are Passiflora incarnata or simply passion flower and Hibiscus moscheutos and H. laevis. It can be challenging at times, especially since each species can have its preferences and it can take a long time but this also makes it more rewarding when things grow. Most recently I was tinkering with Cordyceps militaris cultivation but my favorite to grow has been pink oyster (Pleurotus). While waiting for things to grow, I like to do a little baking, sweet things and breads mostly. My cinnamon rolls keep getting better!

Anything else you’d like to talk about?
Please follow me on Twitter: @Gina_Bledsoe

Xiomy-Janiria Pinchi-Dávila

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Xiomy is a Master’s student that grew up in Pucallpa, Peru. She is currently
doing her research at Western Illinois University with the guidance of Dr.
Andrea Porras-Alfaro.

Tell us about your project!
My project focuses on the description of a new fungus within Pleosporales
using multi-locus sequencing and microscopy, then I will try to see how this
fungus interacts with native grasses under drought and heat stress. Another objective is to try to elucidate if there is host specificity of certain strains over Bouteloua gracillis, B. eripoda or B. dactyloides.
Awards you would like to brag about?
My poster was awarded the first place by the Illinois State Academy of Science
in the annual meeting this year. I received a scholarship from the Women in
Science Club at Western Illinois University.
What are your career goals/plans for after you are done with your current
I plan to pursue a Ph.D and study the evolution and ecology of mycorrhizal
fungi or fungal endophytes.
What is your favorite fungus and why?
I don’t have a favorite fungus but I love micro-ascomycetes. I love the colors of
the colonies and how these tiny organisms produce beautiful and amazing
sexual and asexual structures.
What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?
How plastic they are, how they completely change during their teleomorph and
anamorph phases.
Who is your mycology role model?
Giuliana Furci. She’s the first mycologist woman in Chile and founder of The
Fungi Foundation, the first NGO dedicated to the kingdom of Fungi in the
world.She changed the policies of Chile regarding the conservation of fungi.
Any great stories from field work?
Nothing special.
What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
I like watching drama or thriller movies, painting or crocheting.
Anything else you’d like to talk about?
Many times language barriers prevent students interested in any science to
learn more. I have seen many cases in my home country during the Latin
American Congress of Mycology that is why I decided to create a Facebook
page called Hongos Peru where I share recent publications, translate the
abstracts and post funny facts of fungi (All in spanish).

Tania Kurbessoian

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Tania Kurbessoian is a PhD student that grew up in Los Angeles, California.
She is currently doing her research at the University of California-Riverside with
the guidance of her advisor Dr. Jason Stajich.

Tell us about your project!
Currently I am looking into studying fungi in Desert Biocrusts. Biocrusts
(Biological Soil Crusts) are a complex assemblage of different organisms
(cyanobacteria, eukaryotic algae, lichens, bryophytes, bacteria and fungi) that
all work together to survive in that environmental niche. There are biocrusts
found all over the world in many unusual niches but we have chosen to look
into hot desert environments. These desert biocrusts are considered to be the
desert’s “living skin” and many National Parks have started to consider this and
are conserving their diversity by asking visitors to avoid stepping off the trails.
My work looks into a later successional biocrust composed mainly of lichen and
cyanobacteria. This cyanolichen crust main lichen species is a Collema sp.
which helps us identify the crust when we are looking for more specimens. The
general observations for fungi has indicated a variety of resilient Ascomycetes
but also a propensity to harbor black yeasts. I have been working on culture
dependent and culture independent methods of understanding the fungal
diversity of these biocrusts. Using a combination of minimal media and
antibiotics we’ve been able to isolate, grow and store these fungi. We’re hoping
to understand their function and role in the crusts through a myriad of different
metabolomic and flux testing.
Awards you would like to brag about?
I was the 2019 winner of the Emory Simmons Research Award from MSA!
What are your career goals/plans for after you are done with your current
After finishing up my PhD at UC Riverside- I would like to do a post doc at a
NASA facility. I’m very interested in extremophilic organisms and the possibility
of panspermia depositing life forms onto new planets (this being a hypothesis
for how life started on ours).
What is your favorite fungus and why?
I spend some of my time looking for fungi that are really great specimens to dye
fiber with. Fungal dyes only stick to animal fibers and not plant fibers
(cotton/flax). My favorite fungi that I can get a beautiful dye from is Ompahlotus
olivascens, a west coast relative to Ompalotus olearius. When boiling the
fungus with the wool the natural color that comes out is a gorgeous purple, but
while using an iron mordant we can get a variety of different forest/olive
greens. Both green and purple are my favorite colors! Also these fungi are
spooky and glow in the dark.
What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?
My favorite thing about fungi is that we still really do not know much about
them. I also love how it can bring a variety of different people from different age
ranges to a table and to marvel at their beauty and diversity.
Who is your mycology role model?
A great conservationist, illustrator, and dabbler in mycology my role model is
Beatrix Potter. Her tenacity and love of arts inspires me to believe that
combining the sciences and art is vital to understand the complexities of this
Any great stories from field work?
Didn’t think I needed hiking boots while collecting crust from Joshua Tree
National Park- the cholla cactus proved me wrong.
What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
Other than dyeing fibers with mushrooms- I like to use that wool to create fiber
goods, though it has been some time since I’ve dabbled in it. I also enjoy other
crafts such as needlepoint and tatting (not tattoos, a type of lace making) but
also fermented goods like beer, wine, mead and pickled things.
Anything else you’d like to talk about?
I’ve been working on my science Instagram/Twitter which you are all welcome
to follow me along this journey. Instagram: @BlackYeastUnleashed, Twitter

Rebecca Shay

Rebecca Shay is a PhD student at Michigan State University and is originally from Grand Haven, Michigan. She is currently working in the lab of Dr. Frances Trail. Her primary project focuses on understanding early infection responses of Fusarium graminearum in barley. Specifically, one of her projects looks at a natural defense response in barley trichomes where the barley produces a burst of cellulose and lignin in response to fungal penetration, and she has found a locus in the barley that’s significant in this response and can be used in future plant breeding efforts to help protect plants against Fusarium Head Blight.

What awards have you received during your graduate career?

I’m thankful MSU has such a strong mycology interest, and I’ve been fortunate enough to receive both the A.L. Rogers Fellowship and the Beneke Fellowship which are both mycology-specific! 

What are your career goals?

I’d like to work in industry when I’m done my PhD. I love being able to work in a lab and industry has real-world applications that definitely helps motivate me. 

What is your favorite fungus and why?

I love puffballs. They’re so much fun to puff, and such a good introduction for the public to mushrooms and mycology since they’re easy to identify and entertaining for all ages! 

What is your favorite thing about fungi?

I just love the diversity of fungi, and it’s always fun to talk to non-mycologists about how strange fungi are as a group of organisms. I do a lot of outreach, and it’s always fun to talk about how fungi are more closely related to animals than  plants, and show the vast diversity in morphologies of fungi. 

Who is your mycology role model?

Ruth Allen is one of my role models. She did her PhD at my alma mater (UW-Madison) and was a pioneer for women in botany and plant pathology.

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

I like to hike, bake, knit, and watch TV. I also spend a lot of time making silly hats for my cat Peanut to wear because he tolerates them and is adorably goofy. 

Anything else we should know about you?

Outreach is a great way to make the public less intimidated by scientists! It’s often easy to get involved with already established groups, and mycology is always a good thing to talk about! If you need inspiration, the Student Section has some resources (!