Shaneka Lawson

Research Plant Physiologist, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station

PhD, Molecular Tree Physiology
MS, Biotechnology
BS, Biology / Chemistry


What attracted you to your chosen field?

The ability to leave the microscopic world of the lab and access the macroscopic world of nature was a huge incentive for me to choose a career in the field of Forestry and Natural Resources. I love being in the laboratory and conducting research experiments but the rewards are multiplied when I am able to see the immediate impact that changes wrought in the lab have on forest communities.

What do you like best about the field?

In this field, you are exposed to a diversity of scientists, researchers, and technicians in a number of different (but related) fields all working together towards a common goal. I enjoy having a conversation with a forest entomologist who extols the virtue of a particular tree species because it is beneficial to the insect communities while a hydrologist remarks that the placement of my research trees have improved the natural flow of precipitation runoff in an area. Each seemingly unrelated career path is ultimately connected.

What are some personal challenges you have faced in your field?

There has been a steep learning curve for me as a biologist that entered this field with 100% of my formal training in animal systems. I have since been able to learn how plant systems work and how to transfer the molecular biology techniques learned from a career in animal research to a career in plant research.

What does the future hold for your chosen field?

As a Research Plant Physiologist with the USDA, my research looks at native hardwood tree species and attempts to understand how the effects of genetic divergence have affected isolated hardwood populations resulting from the same parentage.

What advice would you give to students considering this field?

What I have found to be most helpful are basic reasoning, molecular biology (science) skills, and the ability to learn quickly. Writing skills are crucial in order to disseminate research findings to your peers however those skills can be learned on site. As I stated above, I began in the Forestry field armed only with molecular biology skills, a love of nature, and a willingness to learn in order to succeed. It worked for me and it will work for the next student.