A Wild Ride
Frances “Franny” Gilman ’10 had always wanted to be a veterinarian. But a trip to Belize as a Puget Sound pre-vet student changed her mind. There, she was given the chance to work in a local animal clinic and assist with minor surgeries, such as spay and neuter procedures. “I discovered I did not like blood or cutting up animals,” she recalls. “So, I realized, ‘All right, this might not work out for me.’ That was a good thing to learn.”
What she did enjoy was the small-group setting and mentorship she had gotten from professors in Puget Sound’s labs. She especially found inspiration in the labs of Mark Martin, an associate professor of biology, and Stacey Weiss, a professor of biology, who were studying the bacteria present in the cloaca (the external opening of the digestive and reproductive tracts) of lizards. It was 2009, and the field of microbial ecology was gaining steam. “There were really cool methods coming out that used more molecular and genetic sequencing techniques,” Franny says. “It was the potential of those methods that got me excited.”
After graduation, she enrolled in a Ph.D. program in microbiology at the University of Montana, where her research focused on how warmer temperatures induced by climate change are affecting the bacteria that live in permafrost. She traveled regularly from Montana to labs in Denmark and Greenland to conduct her work and, in the summer of 2015, had just returned from one of those trips when she realized she was running out of money. She was five months away from earning her degree and needed something more than her grad-student stipend or a teaching assistantship to make ends meet.