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MySpace: Caitilyn Allen

  • job: Professor of Plant Pathology
  • lab: Located on the eighth floor of the Russell Labs building
  • team: Six researchers, including five students
  • current research: Investigating how certain bacteria cause wilt disease in crop plants

What’s the goal of your research?
I study bacteria that cause plant diseases, with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of subsistence farmers in the developing tropics.

Is work in the lab 9-to-5 or 24/7?
Not quite 24/7, but almost. My students and postdocs often work at night and usually on weekends. Since most of my work now involves the computer rather than plants and pipettes, I work at home nights and weekends to be near my kids.

What’s the view from the window?
Pretty wonderful. We look out on Lake Mendota and Picnic Point. It can make you feel a little wistful on sunny summer days when the lake is dotted with sailboats.

What’s playing on the lab radio?
I made a no-radio rule about 10 years ago after an ugly dispute broke out between country and hard rock factions in the lab. But the radio does play at night and on weekends, everything from salsa to bluegrass to 80s dance music.

If you had to evacuate your lab, what would you grab first?
My laptop––but only because my culture collection is too big to carry.

Clean desk or messy desk?
Messy, in spite of all my resolutions.

Eat out or brown bag?
Brown bag––the workday’s too short as it is. But it does lead to crumbs in the keyboard.

Any personal items in the lab?
My yoga mat––stretching keeps my back from getting too knotted up.

What’s your desktop picture?
My daughters. Also one of my bacterium inside a tomato stem. I’m afraid the picture of my bacterium is bigger.

Where do you get your best work done?
For working with people on my team, I need to be in the lab. For grading, a coffee shop is great. And for serious writing, you can’t beat the back corner of Steenbock library near the annual reports of the Southeast Asian Tuna Fishing Commission.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned by doing research?
That bacteria can sense when they are near a host plant and swim over to start an infection.