How Molecular Ecologists Work: Matt Fujita on juggling personalities and buying a lonely PCR machine

Welcome to the final (!) installment in the How Molecular Ecologists Work series! We’ve received a great deal of positive feedback about these peeks into the lives of our colleagues, so we’d like to begin the planning for season 2 of “How Molecular Ecologists Work”. If you have ideas for questions, format, or scientists to nominate, contact Rob Denton!

This entry is brought to us from Dr. Matt Fujita from the University of Texas at Arlington. Matt’s work uses genomic data to investigate the diversity of reptiles and amphibians around the world. Matt and his students have answered questions of species delimitation, genome structure, and the diversity of parthenogenetic lizards. This is how he works:


Location: University of Texas at Arlington
Position: Assistant Professor
Current mobile device(s): iPhone 6S Plus, iPad Pro 12.9″
Current computer(s): Mac Pro (new trash can version), MacBook Pro Retina 15”

What kind of research do you?

I am and evolutionary biologist who uses genomes and genomic approaches to study reptile and amphibian biodiversity, including systematics, parthenogenesis in squamates, and genome evolution.

Can you use one word to describe the way you work?


What specific strategies do you recommend for running (or establishing) a lab?

In running a lab, I think the most important realization I discovered in my first four years as an Assistant Professor is that all of a sudden I had to juggle the personalities of very different people on a daily basis. While at first frustrating, this keeps the lab fresh, exciting, and never a dull moment.

I also put a lot of time into making sure the lab was set up as I wanted. Rather than hire a postdoc or a tech to do the set up, I did it myself. I knew that next-gen sequencing was going to be the bulk of our data collection, so I invested more in machines to help with library prep and QC rather than buy lots of PCR machines.

What apps/software/language/tools can’t you work without (Python, Dropbox, Geneious, etc.)?

I’m old school and still use Perl. Except for big sequencing files and projects, nearly all of my documents are somewhere in the cloud via Dropbox or iCloud. I thus have access to these anywhere and on any of my devices. This is not so much for being able to work on an iPhone, but in case I don’t have a computer and need to double check some numbers or a reference really quick or need to send information to a colleague.

Where do you work with data (personal computer, lab computers, cluster, etc.)?

I mostly use my desktop computer (Mac Pro, 8 cores, 128 GB RAM).

Thanks to Matt for providing his own annotations

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

My iPad Pro has become pretty essential, especially for teaching and reading. For teaching, when I make exams, I like to design problems on paper, and the iPad Pro (+ Apple Pencil) has allowed me to do this electronically (and these notes sync to all of my other devices). I use Papers3 and a few PDF readers for reading PDFs, which also syncs across my devices.

Can you estimate what percentage of time you spend on the following categories in a given week?

20%      Research-grant writing
20%      Research-manuscript writing
30%      Research-in the Lab, analyzing data, in the field
15%       Teaching
10%       Meetings/Email (committees, project meetings, etc.)
5%         Outreach
(Hopefully this adds up to 100)

What is your best time-saving shortcut/lifehack?

Nothing too crazy…just having things in the cloud is really helpful.

Screen resolution begets phylogenetic resolution

How do you stay organized (to-do lists, digital reminders, etc.)?

I have invested in OmniFocus, which syncs with my calendar and Reminders.

What is your sleep routine like?


Fill in the blank: I’d like to see _______ answer these questions.

Adam Leaché

What career advice would you like to give to our readers?

It’s an unattainable goal, but perfect your writing.

Thanks Matt!

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