FOJBI Friday: Meet Kristin Hook, Tracking The Dramas Of Competitive Sperm

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FOJBI Kristin Hook studies the inner lives of insects and mice.
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The "Friends of Joe's Big Idea" is a vibrant community of talented people we think you should meet. FOJBI Friday introduces some of these cool communicators of science, in their own words. This week: Kristin Hook.

Background

The dramas of sperm in competition are among my core interests in the study of animal mating behavior.

What is it like to be a sperm cell? You have a very important journey, but many obstacles lie ahead. For one, you are one of many cells within a single clump. Should you compete with your 'brothers'? And what of the other non-related competitors you may encounter within the complex reproductive tract of your mate? Not to mention the difficulty of finding your way at all. Then, when you finally reach the egg, will you be a good match or will the female secretly dispose of you?

I am a trained behavioral ecologist and just moved to the Washington, D. C., area to begin my first postdoc after finishing my Ph.D. at Cornell last summer. My dissertation research focused on the causes and consequences of female/multi-male mating in a beetle species. I have joined the lab of Heidi Fisher, at the University of Maryland in College Park, and will be researching the form and function of sperm in deer mice. The Peromyscus system is really cool — not only do they have variation in how promiscuous females are between species, but they also have sperm that group and swim in trains! We're interested in figuring out how and why sperm exhibit these behaviors.

Importance of science communication

I view science as a public good that belongs to each and every one of us. It wasn't until my time in graduate school that I came to realize how insular academia and the scientific research community are from the general public. Given that the general public foots the bill for most research, I view restricted access to science as a social injustice. These core beliefs fuel the value I place on science communication. I view it as an unspoken obligation of my job as a scientist to conduct outreach and enhance public understanding and appreciation for science. Not doing so is a disservice to society, and a disservice to the advancement of basic science. At a minimum, we provide access to science education to those who seek it out, and empower non-scientists to think and approach problems like scientists. And at best we gain a more diverse legion of scientists, sparking an interest among students who go on to pursue a career in STEM.

When I was an undergrad I double-majored in the humanities and sciences, and have always loved writing. Although I ended up continuing down the science path, I am forever grateful for my liberal arts education. I started a science blog called "Animal Behavior Research Oddities" several years ago, and have published a piece in Natural History magazine (November 2014 issue) entitled, "How Gametes Came To Be." Despite my love of writing, most of my outreach as a scientist has been in the form of workshops and informal talks aimed at the public. I also co-organized a workshop on communicating science (ComSciCon-Cornell) with the aid of the Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) program, to provide other grad students and postdocs with the tools needed to effectively communicate science.

Current projects

Most of my science communication recently has been in the form of 140 characters. You can follow me on Twitter — @Kristin_Hook. I also have a small portfolio of microphotography images of tiny Texas wildlife that I took at the University of Texas at Austin Image Lab under the guidance of curator and professional photographer, Alex Wild. Once I finalize these images, they will serve as public domain images available to anyone to use as a part of Insects Unlocked.

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