Eliza O’Donnell
O'Donnell, Eliza
Year: 2022
Faculty Advisor: Bruce Lewenstein

Project Summary:

Historically, engagement with social and ethical issues has come too late in the scientific process. My science communication project used discussion groups and workshops to examine how we create time and space for scientists to proactively engage with social and ethical issues. We conducted discussions and workshops with BTI REU interns and collected feedback via a post discussion survey. When analyzing the transcripts of our discussions, four characteristics of white supremacy culture emerged as particularly prevalent in scientific spaces: hierarchy, fear, objectivity, and perfectionism. In our survey results, participants reported finding the discussions useful and many reported increased engagement with social and ethical issues post discussion. We conclude that providing time and space for scientists to reflect upon these barriers is a first step in increasing proactive engagement with social and ethical issues.

I also conducted scientific research in the Frank Lab. My work focused on intercellular communication in tomato. Estradiol-inducible callose depositions that block plasmodesmata could be a valuable tool in studying intracellular communication in tomato; the Frank Lab had developed transgenic plants for this purpose but had not yet functionally characterized them. We optimized a protocol for staining callose using aniline blue. We then developed an automated pipeline to quantify callose depositions using an ImageJ macro. More research is needed to determine if callose increases in icals3m tomato plants upon exposure to estradiol. By the end of the summer, I drew metaphorical connections between how callose impacting intracellular communication compares to white supremacy culture impacting scientists’ engagement with social and ethical issues.


My Experience:

This summer has been an extremely valuable experience. From the people I have met to the skills I have learned; I feel so grateful for my ten weeks in Ithaca. I was able to combine my interest in molecular biology with my passion for communication and social justice in a unique way that I had never imagined. Throughout the summer I was able to shed light on the mystery that was grad school and redefine my professional aspirations. I am excited to continue my research on social and ethical engagement in science and to pursue experiences in women’s health research. Special shout out to my incredible mentors, Becca Harrison and Arielle Johnson.