Graduate Alumni Spotlight | Emma Bowers, M.S.'12
“Going into a Ph.D. program after completing the master’s degree at Hood made me feel like I was at a real advantage compared to my classmates. The training and knowledge that I acquired in the program served me well throughout my career.”
Q&A with Emma Bowers, M.S.'12, Ph.D.
- Environmental Biology (M.S.)
Emma Bowers, M.S.’12, Ph.D., graduated from the Hood College environmental biology master’s program in 2012. Bowers is the founder and CEO of LabPair, a company that connects research scientists with potential collaborators in their field of study. She holds a B.S. in biology from Shepherd University and earned her Ph.D. in toxicology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Could you briefly describe your education and career background?
I received a bachelor’s in biology from Shepherd University. I knew that I wanted to continue my education, but I didn’t know what direction to go in.
I saw an opportunity at Hood College to be a teaching assistant in the biology department while getting a master’s in environmental biology. I thought that would be a great steppingstone for figuring out what to do next and that it would give me valuable teaching experience. I did that for three years, teaching introductory biology courses.
During this time, one course that really resonated with me was pollution biology, which was taught by Professor Drew Ferrier, who is still teaching at the College. It got me really interested in the chemicals in our world and how they are affecting our biology.
For my master’s thesis, I researched atrazine toxicity—atrazine is an agricultural herbicide that was commonly used in corn production. Afterward, I went to UNC Chapel Hill and pursued a Ph.D. in toxicology. It was a continuation of what I became passionate about during my studies at Hood. When I was at Chapel Hill, I performed my dissertation research at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which focused on understanding why some people are more sensitive to the effects of air pollutant exposure than others.
What got you interested in environmental science?
I’ve always been very passionate about the environment. I think there is a big disconnect between what people view as their habits and the environment. They don’t understand that their habits affect the environment, which in turn affects their health. I want to show people that the way they interact with the environment directly impacts their health.
How did you start LabPair?
After earning my Ph.D., I worked as a postdoctoral researcher, which most people do if they’re interested in an academic career. I had the typical “postdoc crisis,” where I had looked at my career options and realized that I was unhappy with many of them. This, coupled with inspiration, led me to found LabPair. Working in industry can be rewarding, but you sometimes give up a lot of your research autonomy to benefit the company. At the same time, I kept encountering scenarios that led me to conceive of the idea for LabPair and continually pointed me in that direction.
I saw problems that we, as scientists, accept as rules. If we were to rethink how we approach the research process and introduce some simple logistical improvements, I thought that we could revolutionize the way that research is done. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the company could really work.
What are your goals for the company?
We want to help to make research much more streamlined and efficient, and we want to do that by converting “stranded assets” into usable assets. What I mean by “stranded assets” is something that’s become devaluated or a liability, like an abandoned warehouse or an inaccessible fossil fuel in hostile territory.
Scientific resources, like unpublished data, are much the same. They provide an amount of value to scientists, science and society, but they aren’t useful to anybody when they are just sitting unused in a freezer or on someone’s computer. There are a number of systematic and logistical issues that lead to them being in that state. What LabPair wants to do is to overcome those systemic issues.
For example, in a study we just published, a major source of stranded assets is unfinished projects. Projects are sometimes left on the wayside after researchers—often students and postdocs—leave the laboratory. LabPair can help scientists find collaborators to pick up where the projects’ creators left off or find a collaborator.
Another example—we found that, for researchers who collect samples, 60% of samples go unused. We asked scientists why these samples cannot be shared with others who could make use of them, and the number one reason was that other researchers didn’t know that these samples existed.
If we can take these things that are not being used, sometimes being worth more than $6 billion, it would benefit science and society as a whole. People would be able to exchange these stranded assets freely and make connections with each other.
Where have you been published?
I have been published in iScience, Toxicological Sciences, Toxicology In Vitro, Scientific Reports, Current Protocols in Toxicology, Experimental Biology and Medicine, Mutation Research/Reviews in Mutation Research and International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
Going forward, what do you hope to accomplish professionally?
What I would like to do is get LabPair launched and make it a common, everyday platform that’s used in the laboratory so that it changes the way people approach and conduct their research.
We’re getting ready to do a big marketing campaign for the founding members of LabPair. We’re doing a promotion where the first 200 people to sign up get a founder’s badge on their profile picture. It’s free to sign up, but the founders will have access to paid features of LabPair for two years.
Also, at some point, I would like to return to toxicology research, since that is what I was originally passionate about.
How did your graduate education at Hood College help you with your work?
It was that critical steppingstone that set me on my journey. Going into a Ph.D. program after completing the master’s degree at Hood made me feel like I was at a real advantage compared to my classmates. The training and knowledge that I acquired in the program served me well throughout my career, even though I am in a slightly different field. I have been able to apply it in a number of different scenarios. For example, I was able to serve on the board of an environmental group because I had an environmental biology master’s.
Do you have any fun facts about yourself that you would like to share?
During my master’s studies, I was told that a high number of Hood College students marry other students at the College. This actually happened to me! My husband studied in the biomedical science program for his master’s, and I met him while studying environmental biology. He was hesitant to date me due to us both being teaching assistants, which would be a workplace romance, but I wore him down. It all worked out in the end!
I love senior dogs. They have a special place in my heart. Right now, I have two senior dogs. Nothing makes me sadder than when people dump older pets at shelters instead of caring for them in their golden years. I want them to have a proper send-off.
Inspired by Emma’s scientific career and accomplishments as a business owner? Ready to #GOFURTHER in your career? Learn more about Hood College’s graduate programs, such as environmental biology, by clicking here.