A Scientist's Journey: Giant Rats, Twitter, and Hip Hop

Biologist Danielle Lee tells Knox students about her research and travels

February 24, 2014

COAST Lecture: Danielle Lee

by Laura Pochodylo '14

Demonstrating the range of ways to communicate about science, biologist Danielle Lee addressed Knox College students in a lecture that explored various topics, including her research on giant rats, her use of Twitter, and even her scientific study of hip-hop music.

Her guest lecture on February 19 was sponsored by the COAST Program at Knox. COAST, which stands for Creating Opportunities and Access in Science and Technology, is funded by the National Science Foundation and allows Knox to offer academic and financial support to students interested in careers in science. COAST targets students who plan to major in biology, biochemistry, or chemistry. The program prioritizes students who are the first in their family to attend college and students who are from groups underrepresented in science-related fields.

Lee, who has a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, studies the behavior of African giant pouched rats in a lab as well as in the field in Tanzania. She was honored at a White House ceremony on February 26 as one of 10 "Champions of Change" recognized for efforts to increase diversity and access in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

Originally intending to pursue a career as a veterinarian, Lee realized biological research could combine her love of animals as well as her passion for science and travel. While taking graduate school courses, she said it was "like a lightbulb went off" once she realized she could make a career out of observing animals.

"I've used biology to do what I've always wanted to do," Lee said.

In addition to conducting her academic research, Lee makes an effort to communicate to the public in a way that "demystifies the process of science." She is a blogger for Scientific American, and utilizes social media outlets like Twitter to give real-time updates of her findings and progress with the general public.

"Social media is changing how we do things in science, especially how we share research results," Lee said.

While biology is her main focus, Lee also considers herself a hip-hop scholar. She relates popular music to biology to make scientific concepts more accessible to general audiences, especially to underserved groups.

Elyssa Glenn, a first-year Knox student in the COAST program, attended Lee's lecture.

"I really enjoyed it and thought it was really clever," Glenn said. "It made me consider research as a career path. I always assumed I would be a medical doctor, but there are more opportunities out there."

Glenn, who is from Magnolia, Illinois, is considering pharmaceutical research and says COAST has been helpful in exploring this interest.

"COAST has been great at getting me acquainted with professors and other opportunities to pursue things like research," Glenn said.