As an Environmental Engineering Ph.D. student, I became inspired to switch fields and conduct research on the origins of life after talking with Dr. Mark Ott (NASA Johnson Space Center) and Dr. Cheryl A. Nickerson (Arizona State University) at the 2015 American Society for Microbiology (ASM) conference in New Orleans. I also attended the Astrobiology oral and poster session, where I learned more about microbiological research, such as the resiliency of pathogenic bacteria and the microbial community of the International Space Station. After the conference, I soon became aware of ELSI through a posting on the NASA Astrobiology website advertising the ELSI Origins Network Postdoctoral Fellowship. With help from Dr. Yuichi Hongoh (Tokyo Tech) and Dr. Kenneth Nealson (USC) as my two postdoctoral advisors, I submitted a proposal to conduct single-cell genomics on two serpentinizing locations, The Cedars and Hakuba Happo hot springs. Several months went by before an e-mail from Dr. Piet Hut appeared in my inbox telling me that I got offered a postdoctoral position!
I started the Postdoc almost immediately after finishing my Ph.D. research and writing papers for peer-review publication. Within a week of arriving at ELSI, I knew I had made the correct choice to accept the postdoctoral position instead of other job opportunities. Even though I only knew some things about the origin of life field from reading published papers, everyone at ELSI was really friendly and willing to talk about the basics of their research, especially since many people are from different countries and disciplines. The research environment is also great at ELSI because of the weekly seminars and lunch talks by invited speakers or by ELSI researchers. Since I arrived a few months ago, I have learned a lot about the origins of life from various different perspectives, leading me to think in new ways and form new connections. I have also already started collaborating with others on their projects and have found a way to grow my favorite type of microorganism, fungi, to help with ELSI research objectives.
As for my own research, I was surprised by the labs at ELSI, which have many high-tech equipment and space to successfully support and conduct research. Initially, I had some concerns about conducting single-cell genomics in the ELSI labs and was prepared to spend some time in Dr. Yuichi Hongoh's lab, which is outfitted for single-cell genomics. However, I soon developed a setup in ELSI for using the BD FACS Aria III (cell sorter), clean bench, fluorescence microscope, Illumina MiSeq, ABI qPCR StepOne Plus, and others. Thus far, I have only had to purchase a couple of expensive equipment. The other researchers at ELSI were also willing to show me how to use different instruments and to get accommodated with a new lab environment. The beginning of my first postdoc has been successful and challenging so far, and I'm excited to see what the next year at ELSI will bring!