Shortly after Hurricane Sandy demobilized the Eastern United States coast, the National Science Foundation (NSF) experienced problems with a relatively new fellowship program called EAPSI: the East Asian and Pacific Summer Institutes. Meant to build scientific collaboration between scholars in the United States and Far East, this fellowship funds American students for summer travel, research, and living in Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, or Taiwan. Thanksgiving Day 2012, while visiting my dear friends Michelle and David in Virginia, I learned of this program from an NSF deadline extension following the storm. Having recently submitted several national grants to NSF, and also in a search for summer funding, I felt primed for the task, and spent the next two weeks writing feverishly.
Two choices held appeal: Japan for its rich scholarship in molecular evolution, including the great evolutionists Motoo Kimura, Tomoko Ohta, and Masatoshi Nei, or a Chinese-speaking country (I’d been learning Mandarin as a hobby since college). My advisor (Austin L. Hughes) brought Wen-Hsiung Li to my attention, a National Academy of Sciences USA member who holds positions both at the University of Chicago and at Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan. Having literally written the book on molecular evolution, I quickly learned that Dr. Li was engaging in next-generation DNA research that might help to fill in some of my knowledge gaps and thereby further my doctoral studies. After establishing communication with him – contacting his Chicago rather than Taiwan address set us back a few days – I dove into his research and worked with him to craft a meaningful proposal for the summer. The proposed work would combine his lab’s molecular gene expression studies of corn and rice with my advisor’s bioinformatics work elucidating the mechanisms of molecular evolution.
The EAPSI was the first of my grants to reply in 2013, and I felt its acceptance run over me like streams of living water. It had been a parched Fall semester. Now after weeks of ceaseless travel within the United States, I find myself in the air between Tokyo and Taipei, a sleep-deprived Michigander leaving his country for the first time. I this way I begin my blog and website detailing my life: my evolution research at the University of South Carolina, but also my journey through sexuality and faith, music and creativity, travel, and more. I’m sincerely thankful you’re along for the ride.