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Profile: Wendy Runyon, BSc

Wendy Runyon, research associate III, Stem Cell Core, Gladstone Institutes
Wendy joined Gladstone 6 months ago as a research associate III in the Stem Cell core facility. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Northland College, and recently moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area after living in Wisconsin for 12 years.

What brought you to Gladstone?

The weather. I grew up in San Francisco and moved to Ashland, Wisconsin to attend Northland College where I got my Bachelor’s degree in biology. From there I moved to Madison, Wisconsin where I got a job as a production specialist at Cellular Dynamics International. After twelve Wisconsin winters, I decided I’d had enough snow for a lifetime and started looking for jobs in California. When Po-Lin So contacted me about the position in Gladstone’s Stem Cell core facility, I realized it was the perfect opportunity to use my experience with iPSC (induced pluripotent stem cell) culture and differentiation, as well as gain new skills and further my career growth.
 
What’s it like being back to the Bay Area after 12 years?

Even though I made many trips back to San Francisco while I was living in Wisconsin, I feel like I’m seeing the city again with new eyes. I may have lived here for 18 years, but the first time I stepped foot in Mission Bay was the day I started work at Gladstone.

What do you like about Gladstone?

I love all the learning opportunities! The opportunity to attend so many seminars is amazing, and I especially enjoy going to Research in Progress Seminars and seeing what all the people using the core are working on. I also really like the diversity at Gladstone. Wisconsin isn’t exactly culturally diverse, so getting a chance to collaborate with people from all over the world who are working toward the same goals is incredibly rewarding.
 
Were you interested in science as a child?

Science was always my favorite subject in school, and around the age of 5, I decided I would be a zookeeper when I grew up. I held fast to this dream, volunteering at 13 with the San Francisco Zoo’s Nature Trail program, and then with their Junior Zoologist program until age 19. The traditional zookeeper thing clearly didn’t pan out, but I discovered the world of stem cell culture, which I often like to describe as “zookeeping on a cellular level.” It turns out dreams do come true after all.
 
Can you describe one of the people who influenced your career?

This might sound really strange, but there was an environmental science professor at my college who rejected me for a position in his lab, then encouraged me to apply for a position with the genetics professor. I got that position and worked in the genetics lab for 2 years. Without that environmental science professor telling me to apply to the genetics lab, I absolutely would not be where I am today.
 
What do you do when you’re not working?

When I’m not at work, I enjoy attending musicals, going to US Masters Swimming (USMS) practices at the outdoor pool across the street (when it’s not 50 degrees and windy), or staying home with a cup of tea and a good book. I also love going scuba diving, though I don’t get to do that as much as I would like to.
 
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?

I would love to be able to draw well. The ability to have a picture in your mind and put it on a piece of paper seems like magic to me.
 
What is your hidden/unique talent?

I’m really good at writing on cakes, thanks to briefly working at Mrs. Fields Cookies after college. I had to decorate a lot of cookie cakes during my time there, especially after the owners found out I was steady with a piping bag and had me decorate all the display cakes.
 
Name one thing that not many people know about you.

I just became a USMS-certified adult-learn-to-swim instructor. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with it yet, but I’ve always loved the water and I’ve met too many people who say they aren’t comfortable swimming in deep water. I’d like a chance to change that for them.
 
If you could meet any scientist from any point in time, who would it be and why?

With my love of water, I’m tempted to say Sylvia Earle, but I think my final answer is going to be Sally Ride. Space and physics are my second love, and I’d like to thank her for being such an amazing role model for young women in the sciences.