How Cell Biologists Work ‘at Home’ featuring Molly Matty

Molly Matty received her PhD in Genetics and Genomics from Duke University while working in the Tobin lab, and is now a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Chalasani lab at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, CA. In the Chalasani lab, Molly is interested in understanding how environmental microbes influence neuronal signaling and behavior using the powerful model organism C. elegans. In her spare time, she can be found doing science communication and outreach, and she hasn’t let COVID-19 put a stop to that. Read more about how Molly is keeping up with education while social distancing!

Let’s start with your Name: Molly Matty

Location: San Diego, CA

Position: Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Are you able to work? To some degree, yes.

If you are working, where and with whom are you currently working?

I am working from home. I am fortunate to have an office and an old monitor that I can hook my laptop up to. I even have a printer that can scan things!

I predominantly work “alone” – physically in the company of my husband, but mentally in the company of some lovely labmates.

I took a microscope home and was able to count some assay plates – these plates contained dead worms (okay, mostly dead, there were a few living ones!) and were dropped back off at the Salk Institute to be autoclaved after I counted them.

For the first time, my lab bench has a window! Photo: Molly Matty

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

I love routines! I wake up around 7:30 am and drink some coffee + eat breakfast. I check my personal email and quickly catch up with my East Coast news and friends and say “good afternoon” to my European friends.

I then go into the office and start my day! This week is particularly busy, and I have regularly scheduled meetings every day of the week except Friday.

Mondays: Lab meetings. We use this time to just check in on each other and share what we’re working on/watching/reading/cooking.

Tuesdays: I’m taking an online course through University of California, San Diego called “Introduction to College Teaching.” It is a really fun course with limited work and lots of personal introspection and active learning.

Wednesdays: This is my busy day! I usually have a meeting with my fellow Genetics Society of America Early Career Scientist co-chair. These meetings are really great – just three of us gals talking about ways to enrich trainee career development.

Then I attend an online seminar series hosted by a ragtag group of C. elegans researchers. It is organized by Adrien Assie @ Baylor College of Medicine.

After these meetings, I meet with my boss over Zoom. Honestly, I kind of dread these meetings. They make me feel a little anxious and like I’m not doing enough.

Oh, I’m also taking a grant writing class through Salk and these meet on Wednesdays. The material is pretty straightforward – we are working toward writing an F32 piece by piece. We’re almost done!

Sometimes my labmates will have a Zoom craft night on Wednesdays. We just chat, gossip, and do something creative in front of our computer screen.

Thursdays: I am *that labmate* that decided to put together a journal club for the lab. However, this one was made specifically so my undergraduate collaborator and I could keep up with our field of research together. I decided to invite some other trainees in the lab to create a safe space to explore literature. We do journal club in a “flash” style – everyone reads a different paper and explains it to the group in ~10 minutes. I always look forward to this.

Fridays: Usually I have a piece of a grant due on Fridays, so I rush in the morning to make sure it is done. I usually do work that I’ve put off and organize myself. I take time to journal/reflect on my accomplishments for the week. I also typically make a plan of action for the weekend’s chores. I usually quit working early on Friday afternoons.

Interspersed throughout these meetings are outreach activities through Salk’s Education Outreach Department and quantifying microscopy/remaking figures for a paper we hope to submit in a few months. I am also taking an online class through EdX on the Principles of Neuroscience (I’m in Class I of III).

All of these meetings and activities typically fit within my 8:30-6:00 pm day. I take a break for lunch and a break for an afternoon walk/chat with a friend. I also break for snacks. After 6:00 pm, I will work out (I’m currently doing Kayla Itsines’s SWEAT free trial) and then prep dinner for us. I let my husband do the cleaning up.

Sometimes after dinner I’ll go back to work for a little bit or answer personal emails. I have a case of what I’m calling the “Isolation Chats” in which a simple email turns into a multi-page conversation.

We usually end our weekdays watching an episode of 30Rock or Brooklyn 99 and going to bed by 10:00 pm.

I savor my weekends. I do very little work. I do house/yard chores, make plans, cook a lot and try more adventurous bakes. I’ll go for a really long walk, maybe watch a movie via Netflix Party, and read a book (currently trying to finish Becoming by Michelle Obama).

What are your daily distractions?

SNACKS. I get really distracted by food. I get up and start munching on some chocolate covered pretzels and I cannot stop. I also get distracted by cooking or planning meals. It is something I really enjoy doing so I put off other work to do it.

I also get distracted making lists. I will rewrite the same list of things to do in like three notebooks before I’m like “OH, I SHOULD DO THAT!” Oh and the usual distractions of Twitter and Instagram. I’ve set timers on my phone for Instagram so I can’t be on it more than an hour a day.

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

My biggest strategy is to just stay as busy as possible. If I see a gap in my schedule, I will be a big bump on a log for that whole day, putting off all my duties because I feel free.

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

I thought I was going to have more time, honestly. I am reading more papers, quantifying more data, and finally learning neuroscience. I still want to learn how to plot my data in R and read more books for both work and pleasure.

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

I have started this journal club with some of my labmates to keep us motivated to learn together. At first, we talked about doing a COVID-based paper each week but then we realized that it stressed us out. I did my first Zoom-based outreach activity (like Skype a Scientist) this week and I’ll be doing a few more through April and May.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I finally got my mom connected to the internet! She lives in a really remote place and didn’t have internet in her home. I got her set up with wireless internet and a simple laptop. I had to play IT gal for her for about a week until she understood how to keep her computer charged and get connected to the internet. I have so much respect for the IT professionals of the world now. So since getting her set up on her first Gmail, we successfully video chatted for the first time this week! It was such a joy to see her face and show her around my house virtually. I’m so proud of her learning and I’m so excited to more easily share my life with her!

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

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