Unique Scientist: Dr. Jacob Dums

Time to meet Dr. Jacob Dums (He/him)! Dr. Dums is a plant biologist and phycologist by training and currently a postdoctoral researcher studying viral and microbial ecology at the University of Delaware in the USA!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am a postdoctoral researcher studying viral and microbial ecology. I mostly study the marine environment, but I am willing to be swayed to other ecosystems 🙂 I am especially interested in using metagenomics to form hypotheses that connect genetic features to viral phenotypes, and then taking these computation predictions into the lab for assessment. I love talking about viruses as a critical part of the environment and dispelling the assumption that viruses are “bad”. I formerly did research in nitrogen usage and metabolism in microalgae. My Ph.D. is in plant biology and even if I have moved a bit away from plant research, I will always be a plant nerd!

What made you want to become a scientist?
I was always curious and wanted to know how things worked. I found and still find joy in dispelling the mystery of how something functions only to peel back a layer and find a whole new set of mystery. Plants were the original mystery to me as a child (honestly they still are). They were so alien because they were nothing like me or the animals that we can so easily relate too. However, they were so variable, ubiquitous, riotously colorful, and so critical to our survival. I just couldn’t help falling in love with them and the mystery they held.

“While I do “look” like a scientist my imposter syndrome would beg to differ.”

Dr. Jacob Dums

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I am a first generation college student and PhD from a rural part of northern Wisconsin where the word doctor only meant medical doctor. I had no idea that was something academically higher than a Bachelor’s degree until I got to college. I am also a queer scientist navigating through communities that both don’t exactly know if the other descriptor belongs. While I do “look” like a scientist my imposter syndrome would beg to differ.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I sing in the Rainbow Choral of Delaware. Music has always been a great way for me to relax and embrace a community outside of work/science. That being said, I have been known to belt a musical or two when I am alone in the lab. The surprise on a person’s face when they wander into the lab is always worth it.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I would want to change “academic hazing”. Just because you struggled in the past does not mean this is how it has to be. The seeming lack of empathy is astonishing. What doesn’t kill you does not necessarily make you stronger; it often makes you weaker.

“I found and still find joy in dispelling the mystery of how something functions only to peel back a layer and find a whole new set of mystery.”

Dr. Jacob Dums

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
My PhD lab contained an astonishing number of parents both postdocs and grad students. They were the hardest working people I have ever met. They matched and exceeded my efforts when they had limited and sometimes unpredictable schedules. They truly showed me the definitions of hard work and tenacity.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I participated in an outreach event at a middle school recently and inspired by Efra (@NakedCapsid) to be myself and not fit the mold, I wore my tie-dye rainbow lab coat. Hoping I inspired some budding scientists that science can hold a whole lot of color and queerness.


#FirstGen, #QueerInSTEM

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