Susie Cummings headshot

Susie Cummings

Science/Data Team
PhD Student
Oregon State University

Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?

I'm a microbiologist particularly interested in marine microbial ecology, or figuring out how different microorganisms in the ocean interact with each other and the environment. I have a strong background in molecular biology and have worked a lot with metagenome sequencing, which I'm now applying to my current projects. Right now I am looking at marine methane seeps, which are environments deep in the ocean (usually) where the basis of the food chain is microbes that eat methane. There are some very unusual and cool partnerships between the organisms at seeps that I'm learning more about! This is also the first time I'm going on a research ship!

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

As a kid, I was always interested in life on Earth, and loved going to museums, zoos, and aquariums to learn more. I had a big box of animal flash cards that I would memorize facts from and tell anyone who would listen. In high school, I also had a great biology teacher that gave us hands-on and creative projects to work on, which inspired me to pursue a biology major. In college I was introduced to microbiology, and was inspired by the idea that life could exist anywhere, especially in extreme conditions like nearly-boiling hot springs or in the dark depths of the ocean. More and more each day I am learning about the ways that microbes cooperate in order to survive at these extremes.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

My research mentors during my undergraduate and Master's program, Bill and Lena Gerwick, were extremely helpful in assisting me to develop my scientific interests and skills as an upcoming graduate student. Also, Thuy Doan, my PI when I worked at UCSF, always challenged me to be more precise, organized, and thoughtful. I owe a lot to all my mentors and professors for being so supportive of me.

What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?

I get excited at being able to see organisms under the microscope. Even if it's just looking at pond water for a class I'm TAing, it's really cool to be able to see microbes in all of their detail.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

I've worked within biochemistry, organic chemistry, and molecular biology labs through my undergraduate years. After my Master's, I worked at UCSF in a lab processing many metagenomic sequencing samples of the human microbiome. I also served as an art tutor in high school as a way of applying my creative talents. I look forward for opportunities to integrate science and art! Finally, I've enjoyed all my opportunities TAing and teaching in my Master's and current PhD program, and hope I can continue to improve my scientific communication skills, connecting with and informing others.

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Cell Biology - University of California San Diego 2014; Master's of Science in Biology - University of California San Diego 2015

What are your hobbies?

To relax, I like playing multiplayer video games like Pokemon and MMORPGs on my computer and Nintendo Switch! I also paint with acrylic and collage/mixed media. My favorite subjects to work with are flowers, sunsets, and the natural world, and abstract pieces with similar "organic" elements. I also enjoy a bit of cooking, and make infused simple syrups to go with my extensive tea collection.

How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?

My current PI, Andrew Thurber, had been involved in Nautilus cruises looking at methane seeps in the past. When I joined his lab I was excited for the opportunity to join on an upcoming seep research cruise.

What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?

First of all, I think bioinformatics and computing is an emerging area of research that's becoming integral to biology - so take a programming class or even try things out yourself using the numerous online resources that exist. Second, I believe that the desire to learn and pick up new skills is much more important to a job than actually knowing the skills in the first place. Be honest about what skills you do have, but also be flexible and enthusiastic about learning more!


Susie participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: