Hannah Watry led the initiative to start the first RA Appreciation Week in 2020.


Hannah Watry (she/her) is a lab manager and research associate in the lab of Bruce Conklin. She studied molecular and cell biology, as well as Spanish language and literature, at UC Berkeley. During that time, Watry worked in two research labs focused on plant science.

Now at Gladstone, she leads the Gladstone Research Associate Committee (GRAC), which aims to build a supportive community for Gladstone’s research professionals. Under her leadership, the committee also launched Research Associate (RA) Appreciation Week at Gladstone.

What brought you to Gladstone?

When I was looking for jobs after college, I knew I wanted to keep working in biology research, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in plant science or go more into the biomedical side of things. I really enjoyed working in more applied or translational research and liked the idea of working in a lab that was trying to answer scientific questions to help people. The central focus of doing research to help progress towards therapies was a big part of what drew me to Gladstone and the Conklin lab. I started at Gladstone a month after graduating from Berkeley in 2017.

What do you like about Gladstone?

Gladstone is an awesome place to work. I really appreciate how collaborative, social, and supportive it is. It’s really special to get to work with people doing such great science in such a good setting!

Were you interested in science as a child?

I wasn’t specifically interested in science, but I was always curious and really liked learning. I’ve always loved all sorts of puzzles since I was little. And I connect that enjoyment of solving things and piecing things together to parts of my job I really like. In molecular biology, our job can be like a series of puzzles we need to solve to answer questions about things that are too small for us to see.

Can you describe your current research project?

In my lab, we study motor neuron diseases and how we might use CRISPR/Cas9 as a therapy to help treat those diseases. CRISPR/Cas9 is a tool we can use to cut out genes or pieces of DNA that cause disease. But once we cut the DNA, the cell repairs it by joining the cut ends back together!

A lot of my work in the lab focuses on identifying different techniques we could try to cut the genes that cause motor neuron disease, and to measure the actual changes that were made to the DNA sequence once the cells repair the cut.

What influenced your decision to study science?

Memory! Questions about memory and dreams got me interested in biology at first. I was interested in how we’re able to store new memories, how memory formation relates to dreaming, and what makes someone have a “good memory”. In my ninth grade English class, I did a big research project about memory. Ironically, my memory now is fuzzy about exactly what that project focused on, but I remember that it reaffirmed my curiosity about how the brain works. That led me to be interested in neuroscience, and by the time I started at Cal, I decided to focus on studying molecular and cell biology in general.

What do you do when you are not working?

When I’m not working, some of my favorite things to do are baking, biking, reading, chatting, dancing, and spending time with family and friends.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?

Tap dancing! I started teaching myself during the pandemic, but still have a ways to go!

I did ballet in my late childhood and through my teenage and college years, which was a lot of fun. But I also really love theater and musical theater and there’s so much tap dancing in that. I love watching tap dancing; it’s a pretty different type of dance than ballet. In a way, you get to make music while you're dancing, which you don’t get to do with other kinds of dance where you’re supposed to be really quiet while you perform. It was also really nice during the pandemic to have a little hobby that combined art and exercise, and to learn something new.

What is your hidden talent?

I’m very good at word games and have a good memory for song lyrics!

What is a Research Associate?

I lead GRAC (Gladstone Research Associate Committee), which includes research associates, research technologists, and research engineers at Gladstone. These are all folks who work on various research projects—some of them are in research labs, some of them are in our core facilities. RAs help out in so many different stages of research: designing experiments, carrying out experiments, and analyzing data. Each RA’s day probably looks different because we’re all working on different projects in different labs, but each of us works really hard to help get research projects done.

A lot of RAs work closely with postdocs, graduate students, and staff scientists on their projects. Some RAs are fresh out of college and some have been here as foundational members of their lab for many years.

You led the initiative to start RA Appreciation Week in 2020. Why was this so important to you?

For months (if not years) before we started RA Appreciation Week, RAs had been asking me why we didn’t have one. I could see how hard all the RAs worked and how much they cared about Gladstone, so I wanted to create a week of activities to make sure they knew how appreciated they were and how much a part of the Gladstone community they are. It went a little off the rails in 2020 due to the pandemic and was completely virtual last year, but I’m so glad it’s continuing in 2022. I think it’s especially important to have a time to appreciate the work that RAs do after such challenging years.

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