Home Black Excellence: Spotlights Kwasi Connor: Assistant Professor, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Kwasi Connor: Assistant Professor, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

1. How did you get into the field?

I am an Integrative Biologist interested in how organisms cope with extreme environments.  I got into this field when I changed careers to become a science teacher.  During my teacher training I worked in a Marine Ecology lab working on mussel/shellfish growth.  This work led me to seek a Ph.D. in molecular biology using the same mussel species.  Our laboratory was the first laboratory to observe the expression of thousands of genes in mussels.

2. Tell us a little bit about your research.

My research revolves around understanding how animals cope with fluctuating environments.  We use animal models that are well adapted to changes in oxygen levels such as shellfish and worms.  We measure genes, metabolites, and proteins to understand how animals mitigate changes in the nutrients they need to acquire in order maintain energy levels and combat periods of stress incurred under extreme conditions.

3. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I am proud of attaining a UC President’s postdoctoral fellowship.  This fellowship allowed me to develop my research and academic skills at UCI.  It provided an unprecedented opportunity to work within the UC system as a professor.  I am also proud of my laboratory personnel which includes a diverse array of individuals striving together to unlock the mysteries of life.

4. Tell us a little bit about your journey? What important lessons have you learned along the way?

My journey was atypical of most professors.  My undergraduate degree is in accounting, and I spent five years working as one.  I changed careers because I wanted to become a teacher.  Although, I received a teacher’s permit I still wanted to conduct biological research, so I sought out a Ph.D. program in my field.  I joined the Marine Environmental Biology program at USC and studied the molecular biology of shellfish.  Through my journey, I learned that one can overcome roadblocks by fueling drive for success with a true passion for their interests.

5. Who do you look up to? What is your source of inspiration?

I look back at my grandfather’s life for inspiration during tough times.  He was a plumber with four children who managed to own three buildings in his lifetime.  I tell myself “if he could overcome his challenges then I should be able to manage mine.”

6. What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work?

I enjoy playing basketball on a regular basis.  I also own classic electronic instruments and love using them to make songs for fun.

7. What is your favorite comfort food?

Being from New York City, I enjoy the occasional pizza.

8. What types of music do you enjoy listening to?

I listen to traditional Hip Hop, R&B, and House music.

9. If you could give one piece of advice to young Black scholars getting into life sciences what would it be?

I believe Black undergrads should focus on understanding “broad” concepts of life sciences.  More nuanced mechanisms are better understood following contextual understanding.  Young scholars should also find mentors that can help with developing a career plan and supplying letters of recommendation.

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