Leilani Ganser loves biology, science policy and blogging. This Reed College student runs a blog called Academia in Color, which focuses on the scholarship and experiences of people of color working in academia, where historically they have been marginalized.
Formerly of Atlanta and Miami, Ganser said she appreciates Portland’s sense of community and small-town feel, even though it’s a substantially sized city. She likes to connect with the local science community through lectures and other casual events. In fact, Science In Portland discovered Ganser during a Women in Science networking event at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in fall 2016.
And she aspires to one day be the director White House Office of Science and Technology.
“I would really like to have a hand in shaping science policy and would love to work as an adviser,” Ganser said.
Read on to learn more about Ganser.
1. What is your field of science, and how did you find your way into that field and into science in general? Did you have a teacher, parent, mentor or other who inspired you?
My field of science is biology with a heavy focus on science policy, specifically environmental work. Science was a natural path for me because I had a lot of questions growing up that no one could answer. I was introduced formally when a professor, Sian Evans, brought me to the Dumond Conservancy in Miami, Florida, and showed me science as an arm of advocacy. Since then, I have all of my teachers and professors to thank for showing me a way to combine my passion for science with a knack for problem solving through policy.
2. You’re a student at Reed College. What’s your major or area of study, and what year are you in school? What’s your expected graduation date? And where are you from originally, e.g. your hometown?
I am in Reed College’s class of 2019 with a major focus on biology and political science. I moved to Portland from metro Atlanta, but I connect most closely to Miami, where I lived for 11 years.
3. What have you learned (from course work, internships, projects, etc.) so far that’s excited you in the area of science you’re focusing on? What have you found most challenging?
The best thing I have learned in my career so far is the power of mistakes — both my own and those that are natural. There’s this classic story of penicillin being created after Alexander Fleming noticed a mold on a discarded Petri dish of his was dissolving all of the bacteria on his dish. This story is fascinating, but it’s not uncommon. Adaptations often occur as a result of mutations — mistakes in our genetic code. My own mistakes in my career (dropping the last of a sample I needed to analyze, using the wrong type of buffer and subsequently losing a few fish, and more) have been hard to come to terms with, but it’s empowering to understand that some mistakes become purposeful and impactful in a positive way.
4. You also write a blog about people of color in academia. What can you tell us about the blog? How’d you get interested in blogging, and what are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned or most interesting people you’ve profiled? Why do you think blogging is important for people interested in science, research and academia?
I run a blog called Academia in Color that I use to put the scholarly advances and personal narratives of those who have been historically marginalized front and center. I got interested in blogging for passion projects in high school when I started a blog about famous foods in literature for a class project. Since then, though, I’ve read pieces about the importance of blogging in academia as a way to democratize knowledge. One of my favorite posts was a profile I did on Dan-el Padilla Peralta — a personal hero of mine. It felt important to center the narrative of a refugee succeeding in the academy to a wide audience. I was also lucky enough to watch Dan-el speak a couple weeks after that profile.
5. How do you like to connect to the science community around Portland? (“Community” can include peers in your field, other scientists and science fans in the general public.)
Portland has such a strong community. It’s a city with the heart of a small town, and scientists are no small part of that. My favorite thing to do is attend lectures at all of Portland’s fantastic universities as well as the more casual science events — especially those hosted by Science on Tap and National Geographic Live. Bringing science to such an accessible atmosphere has done wonders for encouraging conversation between myself and scientists at other universities or in the private sector, and I’m remarkably thankful for the qualities about Portland that encourage that.
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