Claudia Stein

Postdoctoral Research Associate


You work on soil communities and plant-soil microbial interactions. The project with the mesocosms has been going on for a few years now. How has it been, working with different teams each summer on the same project?

“Each year brings different tasks and new challenges with it; and each team has been great in mastering those. The team of the first year had the big challenge of filling a total of 168 pots, at 60 gallons each, with sterilized soil, for a total of over 40 tons of soil shoveled around by hand. This was physically hard work, very similar to what our recent team is doing currently for Rachel’s project in the research garden. Other teams had to wash plant roots for weeks, but no matter what all our teams kept up an amazingly positive spirit and motivation. In the end, with the support of the Tyson staff and the many high school students, our teams can master even such ambitious tasks.

[Over time] this project has allowed us to develop many projects for the students, and to give the students the chance to do their own independent projects. Students can come up with exciting research questions that we did not even think of when initially designing the experiment. Some of those ideas provide completely new aspects to our research. So that’s been good, that’s been great. Some student-initiated projects have developed into multi-generation projects where students in one year built up on work from students in the previous years. This allows us to address more complex questions.

Such a long term experiment and the Tyson research facility in general provide an excellent platform for giving students the opportunity and independence to explore their own interests and strengths. Some discover their passion for mentoring younger students, others for performing ecological research. It makes it more fun for both sides and it is more productive. That’s a big thing I learned. We often have students join our group who don’t have any research experience in advance but they can really surprise you!”

A great thing with the Tyson community is that they are very open to having children here. What’s it like with your daughter Mira?

“Oh, that’s amazing; it’s just a wonderful, wonderful environment! The Tyson community is truly a family-supportive environment. When I tell my 3-year-old daughter that I am going to work at Tyson, she has a pretty good idea of what this entails and it is not just this abstract idea in her mind of 'my mom has to go to work'. The first time I did bring her with me to Tyson was when she was not even three months old and since then she has helped with greenhouse, field and lab experiments, joined seminars, discussion groups, and made many good friends. Having the option to bring my child with me to work when needed gives me the much-needed flexibility to balance work and family.”

It’s important to me that I do not have to keep those two important and fun aspects of my life separate from each other."

Claudia was a lead mentor for Scott Mangan's Natural Enemies team during summer 2018. Learn more about her ecosystem function research here.