Laura Tipton is at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in Nicole Hynson’s lab where she is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Microbiome of the Built Environment Postdoctoral Fellow. She works on the longest aerobiota study and one of the longest microbial time-course studies known, looking at fungi captured in air filters over a 13-year period at the Mauna Loa Observatory. Because of the island’s remote location and the observatory’s high elevation, almost all of the fungi arrived via long distance dispersal so they have a lot of questions to ask about the community, starting with diversity and hopefully expanding to include the bacteria.

Before the move to Hawai’i, Laura grew up in Virginia and attended the University of Virginia for her undergraduate degree in biostatistics with a minor in dance. From there, she completed her Master’s degree in statistics from George Washington University and her PhD in computational biology from Carnegie Mellon-University of Pittsburgh. Laura’s dissertation was titled Quantitative Inferences from the Lung Microbiome, which used next-generation sequencing on samples from human lungs. This study looked for associations with inflammation markers in the human, predicted interactions between bacteria and fungi and how those interactions impact the microbial community network, and integrated multiple -omics technologies to get a better picture of the community metabolism.

What are your career goals? What are your plans for after your post-doc?

I’d love to be a professor. Since before starting my PhD, I wanted to be a research professor, in part because I have never taught a whole semester, college level course. Recently I’ve had two realizations that make me think I may like to be a “regular” professor just as much: 1) the scarcity of research-only positions, and 2) that teaching is teaching, no matter the subject, and I’ve always enjoyed teaching dance classes.

What is your favorite mushroom/fungus, and what do you like about it?

I’m partial to Emericella nidulans (aka Aspergillus nidulans) because it is the first (and so far, only) fungus I’ve grown in culture, but I’m open to new favorites as I learn more about different species.

Me with my first plates of E. nidulans grown at NYU

What is your favorite thing/fact about mushrooms/fungi?

I don’t know if I’ve been in mycology long enough to have a favorite thing (I started my postdoc in January 2017) but I’m still in awe of the variety and ubiquity of fungi.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories about field or lab work?

Coming from a background in statistics, I didn’t do any lab work until my PhD. My first unsupervised lab task was to extract DNA from induced sputum (coughed up slime) samples, some of which originated from patients with HIV. My advisor was so surprised and proud to see me in the “wet” lab that she ran to get her phone and take a picture of me before she reminded me that I needed to be wearing a respirator and goggles due to the potential of HIV in the samples (I was following the rest of the safety protocols, I swear). It then became a tradition for her or someone else in the lab to take pictures of me every time I did anything in the wet lab.

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

I bake, play board games, and stand-up paddleboard, but mostly I dance. Specifically, I study a form of classical modern dance in the style of Isadora Duncan. Sometimes my work bleeds over into my hobbies; I recently presented work at the Isadora Duncan International Symposium analyzing the group of “Duncan dance” practitioners as a network.