Kristi Montooth – Class of 1998

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Kristi Montooth likes to dig in and “get her hands dirty,” a habit that has brought her a fulfilling career in population genetics and has led her to explore community gardening. Kristi graduated from UC Irvine in 1998 with a major in Biological Sciences. Since then, she has completed a Ph.D. in Biology at Cornell University, held a post-doc at Brown University and is about to begin a new job as Assistant Professor of Biology at Indiana University, where she will run her own lab. She investigates physiological adaptations of the fruit fly Drosophila and is part of a consortium that sequenced and analyzed the genomes of 12 Drosophila species. This groundbreaking piece of work was recently published in the November 8th issue of Nature magazine.

Kristi’s interest in physiological adaptation began at UC Irvine, as she conducted undergraduate research with Dr. Allen Gibbs—with whom she continues to have a mentoring relationship. As a member of the CHP Kristi became enamored with academic research. “The CHP provided me with a portal into academia and I loved it. Coffee hours and lunches with professors enabled direct contact with the faculty and a forum for intellectual discussion to which I was drawn,” she recalls. Another advantage of the CHP was her contact with students from other majors and the ensuing cross-pollenation of ideas. This sharing of ideas has had a lasting impact: “The exposure that I had to CHP friends with different academic interests contributes today to my successful collaboration with scientists across disciplines.” This interest in other fields continues in Kristi’s life. Having nearly completed a second major in Comparative Literature, Kristi loves to read and write.

For fun Kristi participates in an organic gardening collective. “There is nothing better after a long day at work than being in this beautiful, organic space and sharing food straight off of the vine with my neighbors. I am quite proud of two crops – a huskberry called the cape gooseberry and an overwhelming harvest of edamame.” For those of you who are yourselves gardeners, she has an heirloom tomato recommendation — the “Black Prince.”

As for advice to current students? Kristi recommends the following:

  • Explore. Find both an academic and social community in which you can be productive. Many students come to the university with a set idea of what they want their career and life paths to be, but the very nature of a university is to reveal to you what you do not already know.
  • Read. Textbooks are necessary, but they are not everything. Read novels, read biographies, read primary literature. Read not for class.
  • Get your hands dirty. Step outside of the classroom. Do field work, take field trips, go to art museums, go camping. Do this both on your own and with a faculty mentor to guide you.