How Cell Biologists Work ‘at Home’ Featuring Jen Gallagher

Jen Gallagher is an Associate Professor at West Virginia University in the Biology Department. At WVU, the Gallagher lab is interested in understanding how organisms are able to respond to changing environments. Using the power of baker’s yeast, the team focuses on understanding what kind of genetic variation can aid in predicting phenotypes such as resistance to cellular stress. During the stay-at-home orders in West Virginia, Gallagher has been doing strain construction at home in preparation to get back to the bench. Read more about her daily routine, thoughts on working from home, and the friends she has made along the way below.

Let’s start with your Name: Jen Gallagher (@yeastychic)

Location: West Virginia University

Position: Associate Professor

Are you able to work? yes

What is your daily (or weekly) routine? Any regularly scheduled meetings or activities? Anything you really enjoy or really dread?

Work is from 9 am – 5 pm. I am in my office. I first check emails, FB, twitter, and then the updated COVID19 numbers. Mondays I have lab meeting and Fridays I have my one-on-ones with my lab members. During the semester I meet with my capstone students as groups, five meetings with them between Monday-Wednesday. If requested I will have additional meetings with groups to help with assignments. Friday is when all assignments are due. I think about grading them over the weekend but rarely do. I hate grading. I do not want students who don’t do well to get discouraged by a number that is only an assessment on the way to learning. Now that the semester is over, I want to spend time reading and writing grants that I started before the shutdown. Because I could submit it later, it’s easy to let things with hard deadlines to take up my time. But I have three manuscripts and a grant that I need to review so I have been putting them off until I finish grading.

I was also doing yeast experiments, mainly strain construction. The yeast are resistant to MCHM or glyphosate, and I am backcrossing them to identify genes that are the drivers of resistance compared with passenger mutations just occurred. But it seems that keeping lyticase in your frost-free freezer is not a good idea, it seems to have stopped working. I have other methods that take longer but I am grading so I haven’t gotten back to it.

Here are my quarantine rules:

  1. No day drinking
  2. Put on pants
  3. Change clothes every day
  4. Workday is from 9 am – 5 pm

Desk, microscope, and participating in TAGC2020 conference at home. Photo courtesy of Jen.

What are your daily distractions?

Cooking and house projects that I want to finish. I also play boggle and words with friends.

Do you have any strategies that are helping you stay productive (or sane for that matter)?

Being in the office helps because it makes a distinct place for working. I also started keeping my phone upstairs. I have a smartwatch that will let me know if texts or calls come in. I work on the computer but play on my phone.

Is there anything you have time for now that you previously kept on the backburner?

Backcrossing the yeast. It takes time but only an hour or so every week.

In light of recent events, is there an initiative (or multiple) in which you have taken an interest or active role?

I am supposed to go on sabbatical starting this July, but that is all up in the air because my host university is also shut down. I needed to rent my house but because I don’t know when I am leaving it’s hard. I saw on the neighborhood page that a grad student was looking, and I thought it would be for starting after the semester ended. It turns out that he was an undergrad here who was in Arizona for school and didn’t want to ride out the pandemic there while finishing his master’s degree in public administration. When he showed up five days later, I took a chance. It has worked out well. He has a lot of jobs and fun stories. So my pandemic buddy and I are cooking, running, and hiking. We also got a flying lesson. My friend was hosting the physics colloquium speaker when the shutdown happened. She is on sabbatical and flying her 1972 Sesna around the country giving seminars. Our households are essentially quarantining together. I brought pumpkin cupcakes and she took us up in her plane.

Up in the sky with quarantine friends. Photo courtesy of Katherine (pilot)

Anything else you’d like to share?

I am going to miss my pandemic buddy when he moves out for his new job.

About the Author:


Emily Bowie is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the lab of Bob Goldstein at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is interested in morphogenesis and embryology. Twitter: @docbowie Email: emilybowie@unc.edu