Sydney Horan is an undergraduate biology major in the Honors college at UMass Boston. She currently assists in researching the mitigation and prevention of deadly fungal amphibian pathogens, specifically in salamanders. Broadly, she is interested in infectious disease/disease ecology and its relation to host-associated microbiomes, additionally from a genomics angle. As her Fall 2020 graduation date approaches, she is currently looking for Ph.D. programs that encompass these interests. As a mixed race, LGBT woman in STEM she is passionate about diversity and inclusion in her time as a scientist. In her free time, she enjoys creating digital art and animation, nature photography, and music. Follow her adventures as she navigates through life and science at @sydbiosis on Twitter!

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Early bird

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?

Pro-pun

3 Do you have any pets?

I have a brown husky named Louie!

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

An embarrassingly small amount (including some small plastic beakers on my desk and a few axolotl plushies here and there). When I get my own apartment, the world will not be prepared for the science-themed decorating atrocities I will be committing.

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?

Cooking

6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?

Sweet

7 Do you speak any other languages?

A very small amount of Spanish. It’s a language I’d love to pick up again though.

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

I’d probably be an artist of some kind.

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

Boreal forest ecology! It’s my favorite biome and I often find myself researching it in my spare time.

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

I’ve always wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest. Maybe Vancouver or Seattle!

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Shapeshifting, specifically into animals. How cool would it be to be a bird?

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

The music of Owen Pallett has gotten me through my undergrad and deserves acknowledgement here. He actually used to be Arcade Fire’s violinist way back when- but now does amazing solo work, from simplistic loop pedal-and-violin performances to full orchestras. He builds rich stories with unique concept albums founded on his experiences as a gay musician, and has a wonderful voice too.

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

Curl up in bed with a blanket and a nice mug of tea, and play video games to my heart’s content.

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

My friends and family, Spotify, and a sketchbook.

15 What beverage gives you life?

Hot chocolate. Can’t survive the chilly Boston winters without it.

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

A court jester, until I became aware of what time period we actually live in. Then, an astrobiologist. I must’ve read every book on outer space the children’s section of my library had to offer at some point.

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

The support of my friends and coworkers foremost, but also my natural curiosity as well as desire to educate and share my passions with others. More specifically, my current research actively contributes to saving salamanders from a high mortality disease, so it feels very meaningful to me to be helping one of the coolest animals on the planet in real time.

19 What got you excited in science?

As a kid, reading books from the library on animals, anatomy, and outer space. I would also do science-related day camps in different topics each year at the Houston Museum of Natural Science for a lot of my elementary school summers, which is no doubt a contributor to the wide range of somewhat unrelated topics in biology I enjoy.

20 What excites you about science now?

Seeing how scientists are using social media to communicate! It makes it feel like a less intimidating field to enter, and makes me aware of diversity that I usually don’t see day-to-day – there are scientists like me out there doing amazing things! Additionally, scientists using art to communicate- growing up, I’ve always told there was no intersection between my two passions. I’m happy to see now that is not the case.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Making playlists on Spotify. I have a playlist for EVERYTHING. I will make YOU a playlist.

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

2D animation, although I haven’t been able to dedicate the time this hobby deserves since starting college. I grew up animating scenes from my favorite childhood books, and it’s influenced how I communicate and visualize my ideas and art.

23 What is your favorite game?

So hard to pick, I have quite a list… I’d have to say Ace Attorney. As for non-video games, I enjoy Dungeons and Dragons as well.

24 What is the last book you read?

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, which was gifted to me by my wonderful mentor Molly Bletz!

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

Amanda Tokash-Peters (go check out Amanda’s 46 Questions interview if you haven’t yet!) always tells me when I’m battling impostor syndrome in a research setting, “you are allowed to take up space, you are every bit qualified and amazing” before encouraging me to take a leap of faith. I think that’s excellent advice to live by- you exist and are allowed to exist, and the people who matter in your life are rooting for you.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

I have never dyed my hair an obnoxiously bright color, but I feel like that is something everyone should do at one point in their life. Maybe if I could pick a color…

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

Everything will work out fine, you are already on the path to finding your identity and your passions. Even if you haven’t figured it out yet, there will be people to support you every step of the way as you grow as a person. Also, listen to your mom more!

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

A nice mug of hot tea and watching pointless YouTube videos in bed.

29 What is the last thing you watched?

I admittedly live under a rock when it comes to cinema. Therefore, a friend of mine was appalled I had never seen Forrest Gump, and so we watched that together.

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

Probably a container of live crickets while on campus. The lab salamanders have to eat too!

31 What is your favorite animal?

Axolotls! They’re colorful, look like living Pokemon, and scientifically relevant. And they’re salamanders, how much better can they get?

32 What is your favorite book?

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Mapo Tofu, specifically the family recipe my mom makes.

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

Halloween. It’s during my favorite season, and I LOVE seeing people dressed up on public transportation. Plus, free candy!

35 What is your favorite plant?

Fireweed! I’m fascinated by pioneer species and the symbolism behind a flower that’s the first to colonize areas ravaged by wildfire is incredible to me. Plus, the beauty of fields swathed in bright pink flowers backed by mountains is incomparable.

36 What is your favorite science fact?

Spotted salamanders are the only photosynthetic vertebrate- algae live symbiotically in their embryos!

37 What is your favorite season?

Fall

38 What is your favorite smell?

Baked goods fresh out of the oven.

39 What is your favorite sound?

What rainstorms sound like when you’re warm and dry inside of your house.

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

I’m a very enthusiastic individual who appreciates a lot of things. Not a bad trait to have as a scientist, but it makes narrowing down my interests very difficult.

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

Resplendent.

42 What is your proudest moment?

Recently, my first scientific manuscript was accepted to a journal, and will be published in September! That’s something I never thought I’d be able to do, but here we are!

43 What kind of tree would you be?

I’d liken myself more to a cactus, but one of those really small and cute ones. But if I had to pick a tree, perhaps a sugar maple!

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

Boston is a beautiful city with such a rich history, academic culture, and aesthetic. But most importantly, the restaurants are great. I have quite a list of places I like to frequent with friends.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

I’ll be testing for my black belt in karate later this year!

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Ffion Titmuss (@FfionTitmuss on Twitter). They’re a fellow undergraduate scientist I’ve known since high school who’s now doing amazing marine research, and has such unique perspectives that I think many could benefit from hearing.