Cindy Lee joined the ALS communications group earlier this year. Trained as a molecular biologist and linguist, she’s now using her skills to enhance the workplace culture and broaden the impact of ALS work.
What does your role at the ALS entail?
I write some of the articles that go on our website and in our monthly newsletter, and I’m managing our Facebook and Twitter accounts. I love to see what everyone’s working on, whether it’s candy or rat brains or building a better battery. I also get to lead tours, and I’m starting to work on internal communications so that everyone who works at the ALS is up to date on what’s going on. I’m always looking for people to talk to so I can hear about all the cool things they’re doing!
Before getting into science communication, you were a researcher. How did you first get into research?
I’ve always really liked the evolution of languages and seeing how all the languages connect, but I also liked seeing the evolution of genes and how different genes and different species are related. So I did my undergrad at Cal intending to major in biology and figured I’d pick up a few linguistics courses on the side, but I ended up being able to major in both.
While I was at Cal, I started doing research in sorghum genetic engineering to make sorghum more nutritious. What really inspired me was seeing how my advisor, Peggy Lemaux, worked with the community in her job as a cooperative extension specialist. People always want to know what genetic engineering is all about, and she tried to answer their questions and help people understand it better.
How did you get from research into science communications?
I knew from my undergrad experience that I wanted to do science communications, but I thought no one would care what my opinion was if I didn’t have the credentials to back it up. So that led me to pursue a PhD in molecular biology at Ohio State, where I studied DNA damage repair and breast cancer. A lot of local companies that were donating to the cause were curious about what we were doing with their money or what lab research looks like, so I had the opportunity to host visitors from companies like Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works to explain my work.
After grad school I moved to Taiwan because I wanted to try living outside of the U.S. for a bit. I became a science writer and editor at Academia Sinica, which is Taiwan’s national academy. I mostly edited scientific manuscripts, but I also taught workshops in science communication and tried to connect science to people’s daily lives. I think that’s very important, because we’re sometimes talking to people who work in other types of research or not in research at all, so how can we best get the point across and show how science influences all of us?
How did you end up at the ALS, and what do you think of working here so far?
I’d never worked with synchrotrons before, but I was interested in moving back to the Bay Area and happened to run across the listing for the job at the ALS. Everyone’s been really welcoming and patient in teaching me what’s taken them years to learn about synchrotrons and synchrotron research. It surprised me how many different people it takes to keep our facility running. Everyone has their special expertise, but that all comes together to make one user facility.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I’m an avid Ohio State (go Buckeyes!) and Cal fan (go Bears!). I really like cake—eating cake, thinking about cake, talking about it—and even wrote an article about Taiwanese cakes that an illustrator friend of mine helped out with. I abhor exercise, but I started taking ballet lessons recently. And I also love to read.