Mercedes Burns is an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her research focuses on the evolution of sex and conflicts between the sexes. Learn more about her lab at

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Night Owl

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?


3 Do you have any pets?

Two elderly lady cats that I adopted in 2019.

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

I enjoy taxidermy and have a plethora of pinned insects and arachnid sculptures in my office, lab, and home.

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?


6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?


7 Do you speak any other languages?

Not really fluent, but I have a decent knowledge of German and Japanese. Currently learning Mandarin Chinese.

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

I like working with my hands– auto mechanic?

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

Astrophysics! I was fascinated by black holes as a kid but didn’t believe I was smart enough to be a physicist.

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


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

Probably flight, or telekinesis?

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

I read Lab Girl by Hope Jahren months ago and it evoked so many complex reactions in me– frustration for the many privileges she had, deep resonance with her experiences as a young scientist. It’s really worth a read.

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

Sleep in, make a big breakfast, watch British Premier League games with my spouse and cats, and walk over to the Avenue for dinner.

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

Sleep, caffeine, air-con (sad, but true).

15 What beverage gives you life?

Orangina. I haven’t been able to get any since the pandemic started!

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

Bellwether, by Connie Willis. Although it’s fiction, the depiction of a funny female statistician and how her life is colored by her research resonated positively with me.

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

A fashion designer.

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

The process of problem solving and discovery.

19 What got you excited in science?

Animal behavior and diversity, instilled in me with a subscription to Ranger Rick magazine somebody gave me when I was a kid.

20 What excites you about science now?

I want to say the improving representation of minorities in ecology and evolution, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet, so I’ll say discussing research projects with my lab and colleagues.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Medical shows, like Botched, or Dr. G Medical Examiner…

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

I have a pretty big gap between my front teeth that I can whistle through.

23 What is your favorite game?

I loved Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4).

24 What is the last book you read?

Truth: Red, White, and Black, by Robert Morales, for my comic book club. It’s the story of the first Black Captain America, Isaiah Bradley.

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

Pay yourself first. The best gifts are ones you give yourself.

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

I’d like to drive a scooter or motorcycle. I’m sure an opportunity will present itself someday soon.

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

Don’t try so hard.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

I’m probably not the person to ask, but gardening is pretty good.

29 What is the last thing you watched?

The Outsider ep. 3 on HBO.

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

A dead rat snake I found on campus.

31 What is your favorite animal?

Tough call but probably the cuttlefish? I like things with 8+ limbs.

32 What is your favorite book?

The Changeling Sea, by Patricia McKillip.

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Collard greens and/or Taiwanese fried chicken.

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

The first really cool day of fall, when you realize you need to bring a sweater upon leaving the house.

35 What is your favorite plant?

Welwitschia! Doesn’t give a f***!

36 What is your favorite science fact?

Animals with ZW sex determination (butterflies, some reptiles) may experience spontaneous asexual reproduction in nature more than is known. Because females are ZW, they can produce ZZ male offspring to mate with, yielding no female-biased sex ratio people usually identify as characteristic of parthenogenetic species.

37 What is your favorite season?


38 What is your favorite smell?

Fresh dill, star anise, gasoline.

39 What is your favorite sound?

My spouse talking to our cats.

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

I wanted to say something esoteric here but I struggle with that so I’ll say that I’ve always liked my nose. It’s freckled and shapely.

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

Bustenhalter (it means brassiere in German). I just like the sound of it!

42 What is your proudest moment?

Getting a NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in biology.

43 What kind of tree would you be?

Gingko biloba.

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

Terminally hip, lots to do within walking distance. Sadly the pandemic has hit hard, but I’m doing my best to patronize my local restaurants, bars, and shops.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

Because they eat solid food, Opiliones (arachnids referred to as “daddy-longlegs”, or harvestmen/harvesters) can be parasitized far more easily than spiders (who liquify all they eat).

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

Naia Butler Craig aka Bugatti Spaceships, @astronaia. So stylish, awesome career goals.