Unique Scientist: Andy Lee

Time to meet Andy Lee (He/Him)! Andy is a recent graduate from the University of California, Davis alum and lab technician in the Bodega Marine lab in the USA. Andy was born and raised in Taiwan!

What kind of scientist are you?
I recently graduated from UC Davis with my bachelor’s in Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology and a minor in Education. During my undergrad, I was an intern the Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit, learning a myriad of conservation genetics/genomics techniques. My senior thesis examined the evolutionary history of the super cute, but rare, California endemic: the Channel Island spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis amphiala). I am now working as a technician in the Morgan lab, coordinating volunteer citizen scientists on CCFRP excursions to evaluate the effectiveness of MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) as a tool for conservation and fisheries management. I also help with various research projects in the lab, investigating marine zooplankton, krill, fish larvae and their swimming behavior.

Looking to the (near) future, I would love to use genetics and genomics tools to ask (and attempt to answer) ecological and conservation-related questions in marine ecosystems. If you know of any advisors looking for grad students, hit me up! 😉

What made you want to become a scientist?
Growing up in a port city in sub-tropical Taiwan, I have always been fascinated with fish and wildlife. I spent my childhood in a fishing community, where I began to grow an appreciation for the biodiversity of my surrounding environment and the relationship between my growing city and its wildlife populations. Also, as a kid, instead of watching Spongebob after school, I was only allowed to watch Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. Retrospectively, I have always wanted to be a scientist for as long as I could remember.

“I’m the immigrant [from Taiwan], gay scientist son of a deeply religious and conservative pastor father. […] None of these things define me, but they have shaped who I am.”

Andy Lee

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?

I’m the immigrant, gay scientist son of a deeply religious and conservative pastor father. I come from a low-income family, and I am the first to pursue science in higher education. I have felt out of place for most of my life. My religious family rejected my queerness and studies of evolution. My scientific community dismissed religious people. My queer family, myself included, has been deeply hurt by religious people, and loathes religion. 

None of these things define me, but they have shaped who I am. These experiences were hard, but they make me a #UniqueScientist: moving across the Pacific Ocean, learning different languages and cultures, living in a car and coming out during college. I am thankful for these experiences and I feel privileged for the opportunity to be a bridge connecting these often- antithetical communities.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?

I love to climb rocks, backpack, and go on road trips! I am pretty free-spirited in this regard. 

Fun story (long story short), my friend and I drove a car 2500+ miles to Canada for a 10-day backpacking trip. Within that trip we: lost our car, slept on someone’s front lawn, swam with glaciers and icebergs, met a famous dog, and drove home in the BCAA tow-truck driver’s 1988 red interior/exterior Oldsmobile all the way back to California.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
Access. I wish science is more accessible and less like a magical box shrouded by a mystical fog.

“I wish science is more accessible and less like a magical box shrouded by a mystical fog.”

Andy Lee

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?

I am inspired by my parents’ tenacity, by my queer family’s empathy, and by the many #UniqueScientists who came before me. I am especially inspired by my mentors Stevi Vanderzwan and Ellie Bolas, who believed in me from day one; they have helped me grow both as a scientist and as a person. 

I am also inspired #UniqueScientists who speak their truths and share their experiences daily. Visibility is so important, even on Twitter (especially on Twitter).

Scrolling through Twitter was the first time I saw #QueerInSTEM as a reality; it’s a sense of belonging that is hard to describe. Thank you, you inspire me.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
Technically not this week… but I graduated and started my first “real-life” job within the past month!!!! I have loved every second of it and I’m so excited for everything that is ahead!!


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