Page 3.14

(Dr. Porter discovers there’s a physical world, too!)

Today meet Sandra Porter of Discovering Biology in a Digital World, a bioinformaticist, bioinformatics teacher, and expert detector of bull excrement.

What do you do when you’re not blogging?
Lots of things!

Work-wise, I do a lot of things that revolve around teaching people how to use bioinformatics. This involves researching different kinds of problems, helping to design “bioinformatics” assays, overseeing and editing our user manual, testing software, and doing scientific consulting. I also have my own research grants (from the NSF and NIH), and collaborate with others, on projects that are geared to help undergraduates and high school students use bioinformatics for studying biology. I also participate on advisory boards for local high school biotech programs.

When I’m not at work, I manage kids’ soccer and basketball teams (my husband is the coach), watch kids’ sports, watch kids’ theater, hike, play with our dog and cats, play music, read, and bicycle.

What is your blog called?
Discovering Biology in a Digital World

What’s up with that name?
It’s the theme of the blog. I started the blog as a way to help biology instructors use bioinformatics in their teaching. The name describes what I would like students and teachers to be able to do.

Through the blog, I write about different things that you can do with digital resources and how they can be used to learn about the world and do scientific research. I also conduct a bit of research and share it with readers so they can learn by example how to interpret results and how to use different resources.

How long have you been blogging?
About 1.5 yrs.

Where are you from and where do you live now?
I am from Bloomington, MN, but I’ve been living in Seattle since 1984.

Would you describe yourself as a working scientist?
Yes. I mostly work on scientific problems that are related to data management and analysis but I also do some basic research on educational questions. Consequently, I end up with publications in strange diverse places. This last year, I was a co-author on two research papers published in Blood on polymorphisms in genes for clotting proteins, and the first author on a research paper in Life Sciences Education on the effectiveness of using bioinformatics to teach about DNA structure.

Any educational experiences or degrees you’d like to mention?
I have a Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Washington and I was a post-doc at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. After my post-doc, I was the lead instructor in a biotechnology training program for ten years at a community college. I was also the Northwest Regional Director for Bio-Link, an Advanced Technology Education center funded by the National Science Foundation. I’ve been involved with Bio-Link for the past ten years and it’s a wonderful resource for instructors and students with an interest in biotechnology.

What are your main academic interests, in or out of your field?
This is a holdover from graduate school, but I love transposons and mobile genetic elements. I’m interested in the movement of genetic information from organism to organism, from chromosome to chromosome, and between organelles and the nucleus. I’m interested in how people learn and how we use the information gleaned from neurobiology to improve teaching. And, I love chemistry and biochemistry. I always read my husband’s copies of Chemical and Engineering News.

The last book you read?
The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald.
Now I finally know where the characters “Ma and Pa Kettle” come from.

Who are your favorite writers?
This is such hard question because I love reading and there are so many authors that I’ve enjoyed. Here are few: Barbara Kingsolver, M.F.K. Fisher, James Thurber (I love his dog stories), Ogden Nash, Sarah Paretsky, David Quammen, Patricia Cornwell, Simon Winchester, J.K. Rowling, Jack Prelutsky, Diane Mott Davison (I love cheesy detective stories).

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
V.I. Warshawsky, Kay Scarpetta, Elphaba, Lacey Davenport

Your favorite heroes in real life?
Mary Claire-King, Jack Horner, Jacques Cousteau, Elizabeth Blackburn

What is your idea of a perfect day?
I would sleep late, go out for breakfast with my family, and go for a hike.

Your greatest habitual annoyance?
The requirement for sleep. If only I could get by without it. sigh.

What’s your most marked characteristic?
I’m not sure. My husband says I have a finely tuned filter for detecting bull excrement and I’m not very good at hiding my opinion of it.

What’s your fatal flaw?
Huh? Impatience, I guess. That’s why I like computer work; you get to test ideas much more quickly than in other fields. I adore instant gratification.

What would you like to be?
I’m happy being what I am. My favorite activities are teaching and learning. It’s satisfying to figure out for myself how something works, and then figure out how to help someone else discover it. I love seeing the light bulb go on and the look in someone’s eye when they “get it.”