In today’s episode we’re talking to Dr. Paula Welander, an Associate Professor in the Earth Systems Science Department at Stanford University. Although she is now a tenured professor at Stanford, this certainly wasn’t the plan from the start. Paula’s parents immigrated from Mexico in the hopes of giving their family a better life, and they really encouraged her to go to college and to pursue one of two careers, medicine or law. So Paula went to Occidental College with medicine in mind, however that path shifted when she worked in a microbiology lab and realized that research like that could actually be a career. Paula has been working with microbes more or less ever since (although with a short hiatus that we talk about in the episode). After getting her undergrad at Occidental College, Paula worked for a few years (this is where the non-microbial work comes in) and then got her PhD in microbiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with Bill Metcalf. She then did a postdoc at MIT, where she was co-advised by Dianne Newman (who later moved to CalTech) and Roger Summons. After going through three cycles of faculty applications during her postdoc, Paula got her current position at Stanford Earth, where she studies geologically relevant microbes.
Some of the things we cover in this episode:
How can you use molecular biology and microbiology to understand geology and the earth’s history?
What are archaea?
The two body problem (aka having a partner who is also an academic)
Having kids in grad school
Some pros and cons of taking time off after undergrad
How to come up with good questions
Practicing for faculty interviews
The best and worst parts of Paula’s PhD
The excitement of adding new knowledge to the world