A question & answer session to get to know the 2020 GG Scholar Megan Dillon, 1st year graduate student in the GG Scholar umbrella program. She has joined the Breen Lab and the Genetics Graduate Program.

What aspect of genetics and/or genomics most interests you?

I am really interested in conservation, and I love how much we can learn through genetics and genomics. With my project, I am looking specifically at how radiation exposure has influenced a population of feral dogs; using their genome I can look for population subdivision, possible genetic disorders, and local adaptation. It fascinates me how much can be learned through DNA.

What (or Who) influenced you to go into your field of study?

I have always had a love for the outdoors and for wildlife, and I think this steered me towards biology. My grandma used to teach science and gave me a microscope when I was about 8 years old; I was so interested in how much was happening just out of sight at the cellular level, and this helped me to realize my passion for biology. Getting involved in research early in undergrad really cemented my dreams of becoming a scientist. Different research projects, ranging from a microbiology brewery internship to invasive species detection to protein localization, guided me to an interdisciplinary project focusing on conservation genetics. I am so thankful to both my family and my previous lab mentors for helping me to hone my research interests and become the scientist I am today.

Who or what do you hope benefits from your research?

In our human-centric world, I am rooting for the wildlife to benefit the most. My hope is that in highlighting risks from radiation exposure, nuclear power will be forced to have more regulations in place that protect the surrounding environment and those living in that environment. If we can prevent or at least lessen the risk, we can help to prevent major species declines in these areas.

How can your research be used to inform decision makers (e.g. policy makers, resource managers, health practitioners, K12 educators, etc etc)?

Ideally, I would like policy makers to consider my results before allowing expansion of nuclear energy or even after the infrastructure is in place. If they can use what I have learned to put protections in place, hopefully wildlife in these types of areas will no longer face the threat of exposure.

What do you think is the most pressing issue or problem in your field of study?

I think it’s heartbreaking to realize how many species have been threatened because of humans (like how we are currently the cause of the sixth mass extinction). Through habitat fragmentation, pollution, and all sorts of anthropogenic effects, we have decimated so many different species and entire ecosystems. I definitely think this is the most pressing issue, and I strive to play even a small role in conservation over my career.

How do you expect the GG Scholars program to impact your work?

The GGS program has given me such a solid foundation in genetics and introduced me to applications I hadn’t ever even thought of. Aside from expanding my knowledge base, I don’t even think I would have found my current labs without GGS. Being able to rotate through different programs allowed me to find my home for the next 4-5 years and develop a project that excites me.

How would you describe your research interests to a 3rd grader?

I look at how animals of the same species are different from the animals that live far away. Since they live far away their home might be a little different, and I want to see how different homes can change the animals.

What’s your dream job?

Until a skiing-biologist position shows up on Indeed, I have my sights set on pursuing a career as a professor. All jokes aside, I would love to be able to mentor and conduct research. Teaching has always been something I’m passionate about, and I considered secondary education before deciding to pursue my PhD. I think a position in academia would be a great place for me to focus my interests of both research and education.