The DNALC's multi-disciplinary staff has experience in elementary, secondary, and collegiate instruction; biochemistry and molecular biological research; computer programming; design, photography, fine arts, and interior design; science journalism; public relations and development; and opinion research.
I received a bachelor's degree in biology from Salisbury State College in Maryland (1975), with concentrations in ornithology and vertebrate ecology. My senior project on migration of the myrtle warbler used real banding data and introduced me to Chi-square. When it dawned on me that these fields were avocations rather than job descriptions, I tried my hand at teaching -- which had been my initial major. First I entered the Peace Corps, teaching secondary science at a government school at the edge of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, Africa. Upon returning home, I taught at a public school in Baltimore, Maryland, where threats against my life and two flat tires on Halloween convinced me to return to school to become a science writer. As a graduate student at the University of Maryland, I taught photojournalism and wrote a high-and-mighty thesis on "The Social Constraints of Public Relations Science Writers." I graduated during a recession (1982), so there were few jobs at newspapers. However, I did land a low-paying job as an opinion researcher at the Manhattan headquarters of the prestigious public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. After several months of measuring public attitudes toward everything from higher education to chewing gum, I realized I had too many scruples for contract research.
Luckily, one of the five or ten people who looked over my master's thesis was a head hunter, who added me as an afterthought to his list of candidates for a new position at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Being a bird type, and having avoided the molecular stuff, I had never heard of the Laboratory. I had, of course, heard of its leader, James D. Watson, who had also been interested in birds and avoided some hard subjects at college. I think there was some resonance on these points, because, surprisingly, I got the job. I started the Laboratory's public affairs and development efforts in 1982, and almost immediately became interested in education as the purest form of institutional public relations. In 1985, I began to train high school teachers to clone genes, and started the Dolan DNA Learning Center (1988) as the first science center devoted entirely to public genetics education. In 1990, I published the book DNA Science, which helped quite a few students and teachers get their hands dirty with DNA. Also that year, I won the Charles A Dana Award, which impressed even me and got me a perpetual invitation to the annual award ceremony at the Plaza Hotel.
So, now I have a very unique job that draws together the threads of my hybrid training and experience in the worlds of biology, journalism, education, and the social sciences. I spend most of my time worrying about coming up with funding to support the DNALC's annual budget of $2 million and staff of 20. I don't watch birds too often any more, but I still have my spotting scope and remember a lot of names. I'm hoping my sons will get interested in birds, because it's important for a person to learn how to see.