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DNA melding into phylogenetic tree

Person to Person: Michelle Stone

A Penn State alumna returns to her alma mater, managing an Eberly research lab
27 July 2020

Editor's note: This story accompanies the Science Journal feature article "Origins of complexity."


From her undergraduate years to the present day, Michelle Stone has done quite an intriguing variety of things. 

The Penn State genetics and agricultural sciences alumna got her start in molecular biology when she applied for a job as a laboratory dishwasher at the University. “I was an undergrad,” she recalls, “and I answered an ad in plant pathology. There was an amazing postdoc there who started teaching me molecular biology techniques, and I really liked it—so I’ve just stayed with it.”

Michelle Stone with her daughters
   Michelle Stone with her daughters

After she graduated with her undergraduate degree in agricultural sciences, Stone took other jobs doing molecular biology in virology and oncology labs, at a biotech company, even studying Hepatitis C. “I’ve always been able to find positions where I could do research and molecular biology,” she says. “Anything science, at the bench, I really enjoy. It doesn’t really matter what field I’m in.”

In 2007, Stone started her current position at Penn State, as lab manager for Melissa Rolls, in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. And while managing the Rolls lab, Stone enrolled in the University’s Genetics graduate program. “I’d been doing this for several years,” she says, “and seeing all the grad students, I thought to myself, ‘You know, I could probably get a master’s degree!’”

Stone got her master’s degree in 2014 and has put it to good use in the Rolls lab, where she is learning new techniques to advance their research—and teaching them to other lab members—while continuing to manage day-to-day operations. “I really like working here,” she says. “Melissa and I have always gotten along really well. She’s a really good mentor. And it’s just been a great place to end up after so many different positions that I’ve had.”

When she’s not on campus, Stone is usually at home on her family’s farm in Williamsburg, where they raise beef cattle. “I also have two daughters, so that keeps me busy,” she says with a laugh. “When we used to milk cows, I milked every day and fed calves—so I would milk in the mornings and then come here. That was a lot! It’s definitely easier now.”