Meet the Scientist
David Burpee Professor of Plant Genetics at Bucknell University
What scientific field do you work in?
Could you briefly explain what your job involves?
Teaching and doing research on the ecology and evolution of plants.
"Stay curious. Don’t let anyone drive that out of you."
Do you have any secret talents?
I sang in an alt-rock band for about ten years and co-founded an indie record label (see picture below).
Photo credit: Chris Poppe
When did you decide you wanted to work as a scientist?
I always loved being outside and studying nature, but I had no idea that a person could do that for a living as a scientist. I didn't know any scientists, personally, and my parents hadn’t gone to college… so it wasn’t until I went to college, myself, that it all started to become clear to me. But the decision to be a real-life working scientist didn’t happen until I was in my late 20s. Late bloomer!
What's your favourite food?
Eggplant parmigiana sub sandwich
What educational pathway did you take to get to where you are now?
I did a Bachelor of Science and a Master’s degree at Rutgers University, then a PhD at the University of Connecticut.
If you could be anyone in the world, for 24 hours, who would you be and why?
I’d go back and be one of my great-grandparents, maybe the one who worked on the Panama Canal.
What was the best thing about your job?
Three things: Working with young people, doing fieldwork and making my YouTube series, "Plants are Cool, Too!"
"I sang in an alt-rock band for about ten years and co-founded an indie record label"
What was the worst thing about your job?
There is always work to do (and I mostly love the work), so I have to be really good about self-discipline…. and not work all the time.
If you could take one thing with you to an island, what would it be and why?
Solar-powered smart phone loaded with all of my favorite tunes… so I can always have music plus take photos and notes on all the plants I find… and keep an e-journal.
"...I have to be really good about self-discipline..."
Have you taken part in any research?
Yes, I do research just about every day! One of the more exciting things I have been able to do is travel to the Australian Outback 6 times to hunt for cool plants. It has been a real joy to discover numerous new species on these expeditions with colleagues and students. Like, so much of a joy that I sometimes jump up and down when it happens.
Do you have a favourite movie quote?
“If you don’t have good dreams, Bagel, you’ve got nightmares.”
-Boogie Sheftell in Diner
Do you have any advice for young people who are interested in your career path?
Stay curious. Don’t let anyone drive that out of you. Always wonder “Why?” and “How?”
Anything else you'd like to add?
The world is still full of zillions of things waiting to be discovered; we just need more people to look for them. You could be one of those people if you want to be.
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