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Rita Strack (Nature Methods)

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About this episode

#14 — You may feel you know Rita Strack (Senior Editor at Nature Methods) already if you follow her engaging and friendly twitter feed (@rita_strack). But here we delve deeper to uncover her very successful academic career involving developing fluorescent proteins and reporters, her love of horses and a passion for Korean food.

We find out the type of abuse that editors sometimes face, and how they handle it, how she balances a career and family life, including during a pandemic, and the dangers of pet bunnies.  Rita gives her unique perspective on what she thinks was the greatest invention in microscopy, and where the future is headed.

Make sure you listen to the end to hear Rita deliver her favourite science joke.

Follow Peter O’Toole, Rita Strack and Nature Methods on Twitter.

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Please note that this is a Machine Transcription and may not be 100% accurate.

Intro/Outro (00:00:02):
Welcome to The Microscopists, a Bitesize Bio podcast hosted by Peter O’Toole sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy. Today on The Microscopists.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:19):
Hi, today on The Microscopists I’m joined by Rita Strack editor at Nature Methods. And we talk about her graduate work on fluorescent proteins.

Rita Strack (00:00:27):
So my goal, the goal of my graduate work was basically to optimize the surface of VS red to make it so you could just express tons of it, really get yourselves flowing without killing them.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:39):
We discover how much abuse journal editors can face.

Rita Strack (00:00:44):
Yeah, I mean, I would say the three big hitter. I mean, it’s, it’s rare. It’s exceptionally rare. I don’t want, I don’t want it to sound like this happens every day. It does not, but I think age, race and gender are three factors that influence some of the personal criticisms.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:59):
Find out about her passion for Korean food.

Rita Strack (00:01:02):
One of my favorite foods is called dukboki and we’re having this Sunday,

Peter O’Toole (00:01:06):
What actually motivates Rita and her passion for publishing.

Rita Strack (00:01:10):
So I guess that’s my motivation. I want to make the journal great. Personally, I love this idea of making the process more transparent

Peter O’Toole (00:01:17):
And hear her tell us her favorite science joke

Rita Strack (00:01:21):
And delivery. My stand-up comedy is very rusty

Peter O’Toole (00:01:24):
All in this episode of The Microscopists .

Peter O’Toole (00:01:29):
Hi, Peter O’Toole and today on The Microscopists, I’m joined by Rita Strack one of the editors for Nature Methods with a specialism in microscopy, but goes far beyond that. I think I, UK/US time zones are different so I won’t say good morning/good afternoon. I’ll just say hi,

Rita Strack (00:01:48):
Hi, How are you all?

Peter O’Toole (00:01:49):
I’m good thank you, Rita. We’ve never met. So it’s, can we say I followed you on Twitter and see what your comments are? So far, I see what sort of inputs you put into the community. I’ve got so many questions and just to get to know you get to know you a bit better, not, I’m quite sure there’s a lot of other people as well that similarly follow your Twitter feeds and your comments. Cause they’re always very instructive and informative and some personal ones, which I think is really nice actually to see that on Twitter feeds. So I think this would be good for lots of people to catch up with. So, okay. So I guess I know you from your editor role at Nature Methods and the pivotal role, but I think unless people go and research your background, they’re probably don’t appreciate your, your scientific background to start with. So where did, where did you interest in science stuff?

Rita Strack (00:02:45):
Wow, that’s a great question. I think it, it started from a very young age. My dad he was in the air force and he worked on airplanes. So he always had an interest in tinkering and engineering and after he retired the air force, he, his second career was a math teacher. And I think he always loved math and science. And I think he brought that home with him. So my brother and I were also very inspired along those lines. My brother is a chemical engineer. And so I think it started at young and at home, I’ve always been kind of curious and I’d say maybe observant is one of my personality traits. So I think that led me really well into experimental science. And then I was very lucky in high school. I just had some fantastic biology and chemistry teachers and they just really opened the door to this sort of exploration and discovery and learning. And so from there, that’s when my interest really soared and I, you know, I pursued biology and biochemistry in college and biochemistry for my PhD. So I’d say it started at home, but it was definitely reinforced at all aspects of my training and education.

Peter O’Toole (00:03:53):
I’ve got really, I’ve not asked this of anyone actually. I said, so I do biochemistry similarly, I know did biology and biochemistry at your undergraduate at applied. Did you know actually what biochemistry really entailed when you started out?

Rita Strack (00:04:07):
No, actually that’s a good question. And I think I didn’t really learn it until my first biochemistry class. Like what you would call biochemistry one o one. And on the first day of class, I remember my professor saying like, today, we’re going to talk about biochemistry and what it is, and we’re going to spend the whole day talking about water. And he said, it’s not a biomolecule, but it’s so fundamental to life. And I, I just, that really stuck with me and how how biology happens in aqueous solution and how all of these things interact and what biochemistry is, how it’s different from chemistry, how it’s different from biology. And again, I think good teachers make all the difference in that. But, you know, I think at the same time, some of these definitions are very squishy. You know, I think there are definitely biochemists who you know, they’re all, they’re all sorts of different niches, even within biochemistry. So I think it’s, it’s nice actually, that it’s kind of a vague term. I think when I think of biochemistry, I definitely get the definition I got from grad school, which is sort of really protein centric, RNA centric, really structure, centric, straight structure focus. But no, I think it took me a long time to really figure out what it is. And I think the definition can, can still change.

Peter O’Toole (00:05:26):
I love the fact that loads of people listening now, I think they’ve heard of biochemistry thinking even the biochemist. So that’s actually, what is, biochemistry, it’s not just biology and chemistry. It sees that interactions of molecules as well. So I’ve got to throw lipids in there. I have to throw lipids in my biochemistry that are protein lipid interactions for it. So obviously you enjoy enjoyed your biology and you obviously have good teachers, especially if you look at that first day biochemistry, one o one and how that really got you thinking about aqueous solutions. So you actually, I presume you then carried on more in the biochemistry field.

Rita Strack (00:06:03):
Yeah, I think, yeah, in college I did I used my summers, which in the United States we have summers off. I used my summers to do different research experiences and I did one sort of in molecular genetics, one in genetics with mouse, genetics, and then one in biochemistry and biochemistry when I worked for Jim, who, who unfortunately passed away last year at Texas a and M and things just really clicked. I loved protein thinking about protein, protein interactions, really how things were functioning at a molecular scale. And so that’s what really drove me towards biochemistry, PhD. And then, yeah, I mean, it was very clear. I made the right decision when I joined a protein engineering lab and I did crystallography and all of these things sort of clicked

Peter O’Toole (00:06:54):
And what a, what a field and what a lab to go into actually. So University of Chicago, I think. And, and so your PhD was then looking at fluorescent proteins at a very good time with them looking at fluorescent proteins. I’d say, but there’s a lot of genetics now coming into this and designing it. So how did you find me? I find you that it’s really difficult. That’s my, that’s my weakest part when it comes to biology and biochemistry. So how did you find moving into the genetic side?

Rita Strack (00:07:28):
That’s a great question. I think I guess I’ll make a distinction again when we’re talking about definitions of fields. I think genetics is genetics and genomics are also kind of my weak points, but I would say molecular genetics, things like cloning, things like mutagenesis that I had to do throughout my training per cell X and directed evolution, that for me, it all kind of falls into molecular genetics and that sort of wet work. I always found very interesting, you know, it’s very simple statistics. Like how many mutations are you going to get per thousand base pairs? What are the likelihood of certain types of mutations transitions? And what’s that going to give you in terms of a readout in terms of your library size and what you’re going to get? So I think that sort of thing came very natural to me, but when it comes to like genetics, like hard genetics, gene loss and things like that, that’s definitely not in my training. So I, I guess, so I was comfortable with the things I had to do and whatever I wasn’t comfortable with. I just, I just learned, you know, as one does when you’re getting your PhD, but I’d say the things that came more naturally to me were certainly the fluorescence things, the microscopy and also, you know, biochemistry, wet work, crystallography, things like that.

Peter O’Toole (00:08:40):
So I have to ask what was the first, can you remember the first time you used a microscope?

Rita Strack (00:08:46):
Oh yeah, absolutely. We had this workhorse microscope in Ben, Ben. So I worked with Ben Glick and Bob Keenan, Ben Glick and Bob Keenan collaborate the fluorescent proteins project. Bob is a, crystallographer a structural biologist who does directed evolution and Ben study secretion, but has developed all these fantastic fluorescent protein tools. And Ben had a, this workhorse just wide-field fluorescence microscope in the lab. And I just, I mean, I spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours working with that. And it’s funny because now for my job, I spent so much time thinking about the very cutting edge of microscopy, but I know for a fact that so much can be accomplished so much good science can be in, is done on these wide microscopes that are just in a closet in the lab or the compound microscope that just is situated in your lab, how much good science is done on these sort of just standard, nice microscopes.

Rita Strack (00:09:43):
And so I definitely have many fond memories of all the time. I’m just felt very, I don’t want to say basic because it takes excellent data. But that sort of typical microscope, you know, and I remember that very fondly, but of course I remember going to core facilities. I remember the first time I did STED. I remember the first time I did storm and these sorts of beings, the first time I played on a [inaudible] I think they all kind of stand out to me. What’s interesting about my role is that. Oh, sorry. I’ll just go on one more second. It says, you know, I have, I spent tons of time in my training on a microscope, but you know, I never built one. The closest I came was helping the lab order a custom microscope and thinking about all of the elements that we would need to use into it.

Rita Strack (00:10:28):
And that’s something that I think is fun about being an editor. You really challenge yourself in terms of learning and growing because sure. I spent tons of time on a microscope. I’ve taken fantastic images, acquired all this data, but I’ve learned now really what goes on inside of them, you know, and it’s, it took me learning a new vocabulary. It took me learning all sorts of new things about, and it’s a new way of thinking about how light is traveling through a system. And, you know, when I came at it from the tool development side, from the fluorescent protein development side some of these things I had spent a lot of time thinking about, you know, like how a spectrophotometer works. Absolutely. but other things, not so much. And so part of this job, but it’s been really fun for me is learning about microscopy.

Peter O’Toole (00:11:16):
And I think it’s important. You mentioned you never built a microscope. And actually I think that’s really important listening to, or talking to Eric Betzig. It’s really important. There’s people who can make microscopes and invent microscopes, but it’s critical that they become turn key. So people don’t have to make microscopes, but can then apply them in ways that the inventors never dreamt of using them to move them forward. And the flourescence microscope that you first used, I were talking about, they would never dreamt about fluorescent proteins. And the exploitation of those is which is what you went on to do at doing your PhD. And post-doctoral days making all sorts of derivatives of ed fluorescent proteins or fluorescent proteins in general. And why on earth did you call one spinach?

Rita Strack (00:12:06):
That’s a great question. So that that was in Samie’s labs. So Samie Jaffrey developed this spinach aptamer with Jeremy Page and a few other people in his lab. And I think I know that he was inspired by Roger Tsien’s work on the fruits. And so he wanted to develop a similar family of RNA mimics of GFP, that colored, that span of the visible region, like the fruits do, but he didn’t want to necessarily step on their toes. So it, so it’s definitely an homage to the fruits that they started with the vegetables series, which is now spinach, broccoli, pepper, corn. Yeah, so it’s definitely attribute to them.

Peter O’Toole (00:12:50):
So so nothing to do with Popeye then

Rita Strack (00:12:53):
Nothing. Nothing to do with Popeye, unfortunately

Peter O’Toole (00:12:56):
That’d be great, loads of cartoon characters of fluorescent proteins as well, which would have been quite funny. I’m just noting behind you, your plant in the window, which looks like crystals. And one of the images that you’re not so dissimilar to the image that you sent me here, which actually, okay. I know they’re crystals that I can see beautifully rubescent in different colors. What are they often, what were you looking at?

Rita Strack (00:13:22):
Yeah, so this is a picture I took in grad school, just not a stereo microscope of protein crystals of the red fluorescent protein each in Crimson. So this is one of the fluorescent proteins I engineered. So just to step back very quickly when I was a grad student red fluorescent proteins were just beginning to get popular. That’s how old I am, my goodness. But, but they, they were good tools and cherry was available and cherry was, was widely used at this point. But there wasn’t, there was a problem that people are experiencing when they tried to overexpress some red fluorescent proteins in their cells, which it was just that they were killing the cells. So instead of having this inert label, you were influencing your experiment by expressing red fluorescent protein. So my goal, the goal of my graduate work was basically to optimize the surface of DS red to make it so you could just express tons of it, really get yourself glowing without killing them.

Rita Strack (00:14:21):
And so in doing that, I made this protein DsRed Express2, which we showed in a number of systems, including STEM cells was very safe, very nontoxic, very inert, and could be expressed for a very long time without killing your cells. So that was great, actually, that was my first nature methods paper. Was that, that protein, DsRed Express2. So then after that, we, I got to play around with chromophore chemistry a little bit, and what’s going on in the middle instead of focusing on the surface of the protein, I got to focus on what’s going on near the chromophore, and so I made some color variants and one of them is E2 Crimson. And I think this of the proteins I made, it might be the most popular and enduring because it matures really rapidly, which means from the time the protein folds, it becomes fluorescent very quickly. And it just, for it turns out it behaves well in people’s hands. So a lot of people have used it. I saw recently that Paul Beard’s lab has developed it into a photo acoustic probe I, I know someone else, I know other people are making derivatives. So I dunno, I think it’s really exciting that that protein sort of had a life of its own. And the part of my work was solving the structure of it. Which those crystals diffracted to around 2.8 [inaudible], if you’re curious

Peter O’Toole (00:15:38):
Actually, I, I, you, you said that’s how long you’ve been in science. So we certainly probably is not as long as I’ve been in science, that’s for sure. But it’s interesting that that field still hasn’t stopped and it’s amazing isn’t it, I the world of fluorescent proteins is now 25, 30 years old, I think at least, and still developing still emerging. It just shows how long some science can be and how things can still be improved day-to-day and the importance of that. So it enables us to apply those new microscopies in ways that wouldn’t have been possible before, but for whatever purpose. So after this, this, you switched careers. So that that’s a big decision to go out, to out to the out to the world of being in the lab, doing research into editing, which, which arguably still in the F in the realm of research, I guess,uw why this way it’s a big switch.

Rita Strack (00:16:40):
Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think if it was just sort of a multi-pronged decision, so, you know, I say, so when I was during my training, I was absolutely on an academic track when I was on the job market. I applied for academic jobs interviews. I was very, I was set up to succeed on that path, let’s say and I was excited about it. I had great, I had what I thought was an excellent packet, good ideas that I had. I had a two-year plan, a five-year plan, a 10 year plan to sort of build this research and keep it alive. Right.

Peter O’Toole (00:17:22):
Publications. So your record was certainly going.

Rita Strack (00:17:26):
Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. I think there was nothing on my CV that hinted that I might not succeed. And I had every reason to think that I would, but then, you know, I think as you grow through your PhD and through your post-doc, you, you start to think about what life is and what you want to do with your life. What’s important to you like many. I think many people have this, these sorts of thoughts and you know, this sort of period of looking inward and, you know, one thing I think that sort of distinguished me from some of my colleagues especially in Samie’s labs, Samie’s lab is filled with very bright, ambitious people. It was a fantastic place to do a post-doc was that, you know, I can see myself being happy and in other careers, like outside of the academic track.

Rita Strack (00:18:18):
And I think when I came to that realization, it was very stunning for me. It sort of stopped me dead, like my whole life. I’ve been pretty much dedicated to one trajectory, but I could be happy doing something else. And when I had that sort of moment of realization, it was very freeing and it, and it allowed me to sort of cast a wider net in terms of things I might be interested in doing things that I might find fulfilling. And I realized that a lot of jobs could meet the requirements that I really wanted in terms of what I need from career. I wanted to stay in science. I love science. It wasn’t a situation where I was just sick of it. And we wanted out, you know, some people will go to alternative careers for that reason. So I wasn’t burned out.

Rita Strack (00:19:06):
I didn’t hate science. So I wanted to stay in science. I wanted to stay at the cutting edge and actually I hadn’t really strongly considered an editorial career. I never did any training specifically to put me on this path. But when I was searching for jobs and I did look in industry, I looked in academia, I looked at things like consulting. I was casting sort of a wide net. I just saw an ad for an editor at Nature Methods. And it felt like it was written for me. They wanted someone with experience in fluorescence, microscopy and probes. And the reason was they were replacing Dan Evanko, who is sort of a beloved chief editor of nature methods for about five years. Ending around six years ago when I joined the company. You know, Dan knows everyone microscopy.

Rita Strack (00:19:55):
I, people who are listening Dan how’s Dan doing? I love Dan. He’s great. I also love Dan such a huge fan of his work. And so he, when he left the journal to go to go to a higher up position within a company there was a spot open for the areas he covered and it just felt like it was written for me. And so I just applied almost on a whim and I got an interview right away and I went on the interview and things just clicked. I met the people I learned about the job. This is not a good, this is not a good advice you should know about the job before you do the interview. But I really learned like on the day I think what helped me though, is I know the journal very well. I’m such, I’ve been a fan of Nature Methods for years.

Rita Strack (00:20:40):
I really know what they publish and what they’re interested in. I really had a good sense of their trends. So I think those sorts of things helped me, but I would say, and so, so in addition to those things, I’m going to say a few things, maybe sound a little bit more critical. I did not have many role models in my life of women on the tenure track with young kids that were loving it, that were thriving, that that were just really happy and successful. In fact, when I was at the University of Chicago I think there were only two female biochemistry faculty, both of them, no kids, I think both of them unmarried. And I saw the opposite examples. I remember. So Bob Keenan my, one of my co-advisor, he was junior and I remember I can text him at like 4:00 AM and I would get a text back.

Rita Strack (00:21:34):
She was, you know, he was always available, always working. And I remember one day Sean Crosson was in the lab at like 11:00 PM. He’s another junior faculty at that time at the University of Chicago was just that he has kids, what’s he doing here? It, me, it made sense that me as a grad student was there, but like, what’s he doing there? And so I think I took a lot of these sorts of experiences with me when I thought about what I wanted to do. And so then this is layered on top of the back that I was on maternity leave for most of my my job hunt. And when I had my son six years ago, there was just this sea change in how I felt about my priorities and what my career and my academic career success was versus my, my success as a parent.

Rita Strack (00:22:23):
I think that change didn’t even happen to the moment he emerged from my body. Like it was like, Oh my God, there’s a person here. And I have to be his mom for like a long time. And well, how does that change? What I, what I want from my life. So I think all of these things kind of together like right place, right time, I wanted to stay in New York. My husband has a great job here. So all of these things together sort of led me to this career. And I’m so sorry for that. Long-Winded answer

Peter O’Toole (00:22:50):
That actually, a lot of other questions actually. And if you just concentrate on that work life balance. So you’ve made a lot of work life balance choice, which probably is far more full on. There may be. You probably thought it would be, cause you’re very passionate about it. Anyway, you fill it up because you’re passionate about it. But do you think academia is now in a better place to support or do you see more role models now coming through to show that actually people, you know, ladies, women wanting to have children or families can have a succ, successful career in academia? Do you see that more now?

Rita Strack (00:23:31):
Yeah. I think the trends are moving in the right direction. I mean, so, so they don’t want to conflate too many things. I think COVID has been bad for women and it has been disastrous for women with children. So I don’t want to, I don’t want to underplay, I think as editors, as people in positions to fund grants to make tenure decisions, we need to be thinking about this front of mind to advance the careers of women. So I w I want to say that, cause that being said I sort of wish I had been on Twitter when I was in, when I was a post-doc, because I don’t know if it’s, if it’s just an observation effect, like I’m seeing these, these women succeeding, killing it, thriving you know, and managing many young kids, you know, multiple young kids under 10 and getting tenure and winning big grants and publishing fantastic papers.

Rita Strack (00:24:22):
I see that I see many positive role models on Twitter that I never saw in my day-to-day life. So, but I don’t know if it’s because of timing of things improving or just because I’m, I opened the window and the door to all of these observations, but I hope it’s getting better for women. I think things are, people are appreciating things more and more like tenure clock extensions the need for childcare, you know, the need for childcare built into the infrastructure of teaching, you know, Janelia has childcare. In-House when I heard that, I’m like, Oh my God, everyone should do this. You know, not everyone has the money to be Janelia. I don’t wanna go there, but you know, it’s like if everybody supported women like that, I think this sort of leaky pipeline would just get smaller. Janelia would be good.

Peter O’Toole (00:25:14):
It tastes kind of eighties, just like it is they place. It, it is awesome as a place in itself. So do you miss the open bench side? Do you miss being in a lab?

Rita Strack (00:25:27):
I’d say I missed, I missed the microscope. I’d say I don’t miss all the failure, you know, coming in and checking your plates and having no colonies, you know, waiting four hours for a PCR, running your gel, having no band and like, you know, and those little things, kind of those little sort of what you might call like a Styrofoam wall that you run into on the day to day basis of event a bench work. I don’t miss that at all. We have no similar failure as an editor and that’s kind of nice. Ubut I do miss, I literally missed the microscope. That moment of observation where you’re seeing something from the no one has seen before, you know, just scanning yourself, what do you look like? Can I see something that wasn’t visible? I mean, I missed that. I think I found it peaceful. I found it. I don’t know, just, just seeing, seeing the biology. I always found that stunning and I do miss that.

Peter O’Toole (00:26:26):
I, I totally get that. The amount of time I spend at a microscope now is fairly minimal. But I do get sent the results as they get come off when they’re exciting. So I actually get to see the really, I get to see the problems when they’re really intractable and problems I get roped in. But then the other side has been something completely utterly new is seen, even with new technologies and you get to see it first and it just every now and then you’re just, blah. I take a lot to be impressed in the world of science and every now and then you see something you think, wow, or you see the, the face, the excitement in the person showing it to you. So it’s like, that’s what it’s enabled. You know, it’s that they can see their biology, their biochemistry really happening. They know that all their theories is true. It’s right. It’s there. They can see it. And it’s true. Seeing is believing that you just have to be careful what you’re seeing is real, I guess. So you mentioned your, your children. So here’s your family here. So six years for your son and your daughter.

Rita Strack (00:27:32):
Maisie. My daughter is three. So there’s a bit of an age gap, but they’re old enough now that they can actually play well together, which is great because the pandemic has basically made them, I mean, it’s just forced to the situation, right. They’ve sort of had to become playmates. So it’s been great. That picture is from Chuseok, which is a Korean sort of Korean Thanksgiving holiday. I’m half Korean, many people can’t tell which, you know, when you’re half something, it can be difficult to tell, but I’m half Korean and so on my mom’s side. So we definitely celebrate all of those traditions and we try to keep my children involved. My children are learning a few Korean words and they like listening to K-pop, which has meant sort of, we have some K-pop dance parties.

Peter O’Toole (00:28:19):
Yeah. But like, I can obviously some big acts in K-pop now, but gangnam style probably wasn’t the greatest introduction for it.

Rita Strack (00:28:29):
No, but the dance. So when your kids dance, I mean, it’s priceless. Right.

Peter O’Toole (00:28:34):
And you know what I hate to say this, but actually the beat in it that does just the beat in the background is really good workout music. I embarassed to say that, but it is actually really good.

Rita Strack (00:28:44):
Yep. Absolutely. No shame in that could be a guilty pleasure.

Peter O’Toole (00:28:50):
And this is again, it’s a lovely picture of them and with a quite high bunny rabbit.

Rita Strack (00:28:57):
Yes. So I think like many people we bought pandemic animals to sort of help us through what, what is a really crazy time.

Peter O’Toole (00:29:07):
That sounds really wrong. It sounds like that the pet’s got a pandemic.

Rita Strack (00:29:11):
No. All right. For people watching this in the future, when COVID is gone, I think a lot of like, you know, a lot of people have been adopting dogs and cats as companions to keep because we’re lonely. And we didn’t want to go the cat or dog route quite yet, but we got two bunnies. I think you’re seeing peanut in that picture. And the kids just love them. The bunnies are sweet. They don’t like to be picked up, but they do like to be petted. They love attention. And I think the kids once they have overcame their initial excitement, they did stop trying to scream at the bunnies, terrified the bunnies, you know, in their excitement. They were just like, bunnies but now they’ve settled in and we’re a family. Yes and no. So we have some, they live in the house. Yes. And we have some areas that are bunny proof, but we learned the hard way that you can not just let them free range because they chewed through the wires. On one of my speakers, they chewed through a cat five cable that was like hard wiring my internet. So yeah, so we have some bunny, we have some specific places in the house that are bunny proof and they do live in our living room.

Peter O’Toole (00:30:28):
At least I didn’t go through the electrical cables because a national Lampoon’s Christmas vacation with a cat under the trees, almost, biting through a cable who’s done the homeschooling.

Rita Strack (00:30:45):
That’s a great question. And I’m going to make people jealous here. I am very lucky that my parents live nearby. They retired young. Like I said, my dad’s a retired school teacher and they watch our kids during the day they provide full-time childcare. And my dad manages my daughter’s too young for school, but my dad manages all of my son’s remote schooling, literally all of it. In fact, we just had a parent teacher conference with the teacher the other day. And there were some things I just didn’t know he was even doing it because my dad has been managing all of it. And that’s been such a, I mean, that’s been so instrumental to my, my husband and myself being able to continue to work and thrive and have some sort of normalcy in this time is that the kids are out of the house from nine to five, you know? So I’m very lucky in that regard. So my dad he’s, he’s, he’s taken on this burden like a champion.

Peter O’Toole (00:31:42):
I said, I bet he’s loved it by that time. And you know what? They will remember it certainly the six-year-old will remember these times actually it’d be lovely to have that time to spend with my own children. I don’t, I may be lucky. My wife is only worked part-time and does it, and that my children were a bit older, so they don’t need as much support, but they still need that home tutoring. And I’m very fortunate myself in that respect, but I bet he’s loving it.

Rita Strack (00:32:08):
You know, he told me that he doesn’t want to go back to normal school. He wants Grampy to be his teacher forever. So he, I think he does, he does like it. And you know, Mike, that his teacher even said that she thinks he he’s one of the few students who’s really thriving in homeschool. Like he would not be doing any better in person. And I think that’s also been my impression except for the social interaction, you know, he’s not learning how to be the peer of another six-year-old. And that, that me nervous, we have a very tiny bubble. We only have one friend that we trust enough to let have play dates with their kids. And I think that part has been hard.

Peter O’Toole (00:32:50):
Yeah. As a child, they, they, they need that side to it. So coming back to the day job itself which I presume you really enjoy. I love it. Okay. So I was wondering actually, I can see how you can love it see what’s coming through, but at the same time, it must be quite a stressful, difficult job because you know, I’m going to, I’m going to send you a manuscript and you’re going to say, that’s not for Nature Methods must be quite tough to then, you know, I guess you do it a lot and maybe become hard into it, but it can’t be an easy task to send a I’m sorry. We’re not interested. Ha what’s going through your mind. How, how does that make you feel? What are you thinking when you get to send it off? You know, you’re making someone’s day when it goes to reviewers that, you know, that’s like, yes, at least I’ve got past stage one, but when you go get to stage one, I know what it feels like for good reason. I, when you reflect back, you think, yeah, that was, that was too Chancy, you know, but you got to chance your luck, but some people it’s, they’re passionate. I don’t understand why. So how’d you cope with that?

Rita Strack (00:34:02):
Those are great questions. You know, I would say that rejecting papers, at least for me, is the very hardest, worst part about being an editor. No doubt. And I think the way I cope. So the first thing is, I think that’s good. I think it keeps me very careful. You know, I’m not flippant about any paper. We read every paper carefully, we discuss them, we give them their due consideration. And we take it very seriously because there are expectations writing on every single submission. They’re real people, real students, real scientists who put a lot of work and energy and effort into creating these nice papers. And then we’re making a decision on them. So I take that very seriously. And and it’s hard. I won’t lie about that. I’m, I’m a people pleasing person. That’s my, that’s my intrinsic nature.

Rita Strack (00:34:57):
So disappointing people it’s never gotten easy. I’ve never hardened to it. Six years in, it’s still still difficult. I will say there are things that help. And I think the biggest thing is this. It’s just that, you know, people see editors as gatekeepers, but I’m only making a decision or we’re only making a decision about whether the paper should be published with us. There are thousands of journals. I don’t know of any paper I’ve rejected that hasn’t been published. I’m not saying your paper should not be published. In fact, typically that’s the furthest thing from my mind, it’s only an exceptionally rare cases where we get a paper we’re like, this makes no sense. I mean, maybe one per year where we’re like, this makes no sense. Typically it’s just like, this is a nice paper. It’s just not for us. And so I think that sort of helps me because I’m not rejecting the paper forever.

Rita Strack (00:35:50):
I’m not like throwing it into a trash into a dumpster and lighting it on fire. I’m just saying, you know, not for us, not, not this paper. So that, that sort of helps a little bit. I think the other thing that helps is just, it feels so good to see a paper through, to accept. I think that how good that feels sort of outweighs the bad of the rejection. And I think the final thing I just want to say on this is that I want every author of every author whose paper I’ve rejected to feel like I read and understood their paper. That is what you are owed by me. You are not owed review. You are owed the knowledge that I read your paper carefully. I understood it. And then I made a judgment call about whether it was right or not for Nature Methods.

Rita Strack (00:36:41):
And I think the part of a big job, big part of our job is building trust in our community. I know a lot of microscopists now I know that they know that I take their papers seriously, that I understand their work. And so I think that’s, that’s helped me just build trust in my community. People say, okay, Rita is. Rita is going to handle this paper. I want her to read it. I want Rita to read it to read this paper. Rita will understand this. So I think that’s the work I’ve done. And that, that helps. And I’d say to any author who doesn’t feel that way, who doesn’t feel convinced that I understood their work to talk to me about it, that’s my job to, we can have a conversation even about rejected papers.

Peter O’Toole (00:37:20):
And I bet you get quite a lot of that as well as, Hey, they just haven’t understood it. They haven’t got it. They haven’t grasped, you know what I perceive as the ultimate and the kids, everyone thinks that work is excellent. Certainly in the early days, everything is outstanding and it’s some people never really get that balance of is this actually, you know, it’s a good bit of work while this is groundbreaking. This is going to be impact in wider than just my niche area. But you must get some very, I would imagine. I don’t know, but I’d imagine some people come back with fire really fighting and, and not, not accepting of a rebuttal and not just maybe that first rebuttal, but even when you get the reviewer’s comments, then say, no, no, no. And I said, this must be a competitor. That’s saying this, this is completely outrageous. How do you cope with that? Because obviously this then it’s really, angst you can feel their, their, their, their anger. I would have thoughts?

Rita Strack (00:38:25):
Yeah, that’s a great question. You’re absolutely right. So we get all sorts of what we call appeals, which is basically where people are just asking us to reconsider the decision we made.

Rita Strack (00:38:36):
And the good news is this is part of our training to deal with these people that did not, you know, to deal with these concerns. And so the way we deal with them is professional. You know, this is our job to handle all types of personalities, all types of things that come our way in a way that is timely, professional and fair. I think we really care about fairness and the perception of fairness at the journal. So I think it can be hard when people attack you personally, but it’s rare. So I’d say the real, the bad players are quite, are quite rare. So it’s not something that really discourages me from doing the job. You just kind of have to roll with it. I think there are times when it borders on bullying and we don’t tolerate things like racism, which we have experienced that the journal, you know, if we get racist insults, we deal with those as, you know, certain way. But it’s just kind of like,

Peter O’Toole (00:39:38):
I never even dreamt that you get that there’d be racist abuse coming. I can I have the question? How do you, because I can imagine you get abuse back. I’ve had collaborators who have posted me rebuttles to I said, look, you’ve got collaborators on papers. And they said, they see that I’m there. I couldn’t submit their rebuttal. That could, because he’s just outrageous. And I there’s no way, that’s unprofessional. You know, there’s a person, the other side that is neutral to this, you know, that they are, that they’re not to blame for it, but you must get that abuse, but I’m amazed that people start going on. I guess, gender race, whatever else I just,

Rita Strack (00:40:20):
Yeah. I mean, I would say the three big hitter. I mean, it’s, it’s rare. It’s, it’s exceptionally rare. I don’t want, I don’t want it to sound like this happens every day. It does not, but I think age, race and gender are three factors that influence some of the personal criticisms we get, you know, a lot of editors are women, a lot of editors or, you know, junior editors, they’re junior, they they’re coming straight from their post-doc usually then, you know, I think that brings with it a certain amount of, they’re just, they can be a bit of an unknown and that can be perceived as a point of weakness. It’s very rare. I don’t want to, you know, most scientists are very professional, very kind. And, you know, I don’t think it benefits anyone to be mean to editors really, but there, there are, there are personalities that border on bullying and we just have to deal with them as professionally as we can.

Rita Strack (00:41:09):
And, you know, we don’t let people bully us to change our editorial criteria, but we don’t also, we don’t seek to their level. We don’t say, you know we just have to, you know, we’re really the bigger players. And in that regard, I’d say if we have review comments, rev like rebuttals that bully our reviewers, we will step in and say, this is inappropriate. You need to revise your rebuttal. Same thing for our reviews. If our reviews are just cutting nasty you know, we’ll step in and you know, we’re not going to send it if our reviews appear racist. I mean, like if any of these things we’re going to step in, we’re going to use our editorial criteria, our experience to make the best decision to be fair, to be, to be good.

Peter O’Toole (00:41:54):
No, I’ve never had a review. As in if I review something I’ve never had that kickback, which is good, but I am pretty honest. Actually, you might. I think I, as you review it, both grants and publications, I’m very honest in it. And I think you will, should I be saying this directly because it’s quite catio is quite, it’s not insulting. It’s, it’s just how I’m seeing it. And then I think actually, if I was to meet the person, would I say to their face, I think I’d have to. And so I always sell, actually, I I’ve all been favor for, I’m quite happy for people to know if I’d be viewed their paper or their manuscript, because I should stand by my interpretation of it, which is nice when you get rebuttals, because they can answer back, I guess, at that point. But it’s always that moment of sanities would I say to their face, if they found out it was me, the answer is always, yes, it’s always a bit terrifying, but for good reason, I think otherwise I wouldn’t be saying it. So over your whole career so far, what has been the best? What has been the highlight of your career?

Rita Strack (00:42:59):
Oh my goodness. So that’s a, that’s a great question. I would say, well, what are the biggest things that I worked on by myself? Not entirely by myself, but I largely was the driver of, it was a focus issue we had at the end of 2019 on deep learning in microscopy. And for that I commission is that this is a different one, but that’s, I love that. But we also did have customer for the cover of that issue as well. But so it was sort of this, as you probably know, people are starting to use machine learning, deep learning for image reconstruction, image, augmentation, beyond image analysis, tasks, like segmentation, you know, typing, but really into image formation in the way we’re generating images. And I think both of these things are really exciting. And as an editor, it’s been cool to kind of see it go from zero papers to just tons.

Rita Strack (00:44:01):
It was like like sort of like a heavy side function, just boop. And then, you know, it’s sort of remained high. So because of all the interests and because it’s just so cool, I put together this, I mean the team, you know, I was kind of the driver, but as a team effort, we put together this focus and she wanted deep learning in microscopy. And I was just so happy with how that turned out. We got a lot of positive feedback, just some fantastic papers in that issue. And I think it’s going to be a resource for people that age as well. It does not only put a timestamp on what was the cutting edge when it was published, but also is forward-looking enough to age well, so I’m pretty, I’m pretty proud of that. I would say that’s a high watermark for me.

Peter O’Toole (00:44:44):
You see, I guess, artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, you see that as very much where the future’s going, where the biggest changes will be or do you see other technology shifts that where the biggest changes will be made or biggest impact in the coming 10 years?

Rita Strack (00:45:01):
That’s a great question. So, you know, from, from this, I will, I will say, you know, the consensus I get when I talk to microscopists is that, you know, they’re kind of a little bit pessimistic about optics, but like they, they really feel, Oh, we’ve pushed it very far. We’ve done a lot in terms of what we can do for microscopes. But then, you know, on one hand, they’ll say that next day I’ll get a paper that just surprises me in terms of ingenuity and using existing parts to do cool new things. And so I think there is certainly sort of just in terms of building new microscopes and better microscopes lots of space for innovation still in terms of biological imaging. You know, if you’re coming at it from an optics perspective maybe not so much, I don’t know, but from a biology perspective, I think there’s tons of stuff to do there.

Rita Strack (00:45:57):
I think deep learning, I think it’s going to be integrated seamlessly into a lot of aspects of microscopy in the future. I think the challenge it needs to meet head on right now is this issue of artifacts hallucinations, things like that. Can biologists trust the data that they’re getting? Is it quantitative? Is it meaningful? If not, then all of it’s worthless, right? I mean, we’re not just trying to get beautiful images of things. We’re trying to figure out how life works and if the methods fail to deliver then, then that’s, that’s just it. And I think a lot of groups are working on these exact questions. They’re trying to figure out, you know, like the black box nature of what these and ends are doing. You know, they’re really trying to do more rigorous assessments of mapping errors, mapping confidence. And I think there’s good work to be done there.

Rita Strack (00:46:54):
But I think, again, these, this suite of methods needs to get trust from biologists, but for it to be implemented, you know, I do, I do get a little nervous. I see ads on Twitter. I see microscopy ads you know, where just, you know, the ad will just be AI integrated into a microscope and it’ll just be two side-by-side images and there’s just no information. What was the training data set? What’s your neural network, you know, like what is happening? And sometimes the images look bad, you know, how a deconvolution gone wrong will look just sort of like, like, like a skeleton version of the image you wanted. You know, the data will look like that and I’m saying, Oh, no, I, you know, I don’t want biologists to just consume this as if it’s ready for prime time. I really want there to be some rigorous backing up of these methods.

Rita Strack (00:47:44):
Now is the time people are doing the hard work. I think so. So for me, I’m excited about these approaches because I get to see the hard work people are doing. And I do think 10 years from now, it will be integrated into a lot of aspects of image, acquisition, image analysis probably every aspect, you know, how your, how your microscope finds its sample, how it focuses on its sample on the sample, how it finds the cells at once to image. And then from there, how it optimizes SNR of those images, image quality from there, how it segments, the images, you know, types of images. I think it, I think I do think it’s the future, but I think a lot of groundwork needs to be done now, before it just gets taken up sort of wholesale.

Peter O’Toole (00:48:30):
I, yeah, I, I don’t know if it is I don’t know many people who are buying off the shelf products for this and just blindly using it. I maybe that’s just me because I’m very skeptical at the moment. My PhD is, is a mathematician doing just these sorts of analysis and where are the problems to get good teaching sets. And then you change it to a different thing and you’ve got to teach it in a different direction. And actually a really hard part here is getting computer scientists, mathematicians, mathematicians, to understand the biology. So when they’re using training sets to actually tick, you still have to look at it. You still have to sanity check it and come back. And as a biologist, I think you’re intrinsically aware just through your training with what’s good, what’s right. What’s wrong if it’s right or wrong, but what’s, what’s changing.

Peter O’Toole (00:49:26):
And from someone else from the outside, they’re lovely pictures, but I don’t always have that fundamental grounding and that a lot of training to get them to that point of really grasping the data. And I think, yeah, I’m not sure any of that. Maybe they can do basics with some of the off the shelf products, really basic stuff have to be careful. I know there’s a lot of companies, all the big companies, who’ve got their auto segmentation and self outlining and everything counts, but there’s a lot, there’s a lot more in that data set that needs to be analyzed that we’re just ignoring at the moment. And I don’t, I just don’t think we’re there yet.

Rita Strack (00:50:03):
Yeah. I think that’s totally fair. I think it’s absolutely a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s an infant, it’s a field in its infancy. I don’t think it’s a field that’s that’s right. And I think, I think it’s good that people like you are skeptical. I really do.

Peter O’Toole (00:50:20):
Okay. So I’m an optimistic skeptic. I’m optimistic. We’ll get there. I’m just skeptical that we, that I don’t think we’re there it, so I’ve got a question. Yeah. Who’s been your inspiration inside of work, your biggest inspiration.

Rita Strack (00:50:40):
That’s a great question. You know, I mentioned Dan Evanko. I really looked up to him when I started up the company. We never actually overlapped at Nature Methods, but he was, he was the chief editor when my papers came out in Nature Methods and he was the editor who handled my first paper. And so in graduate school, when I, when I worked on my first paper with him, that’s when I really learned what the editorial process can do for a paper. Because I’ll say my Nature Methods paper from graduate school was much more changed from submission to publication than any of my other papers, which I also thought were nice. But you know, what the, what he did was he took it from a paper that was good. And he turned it into a Nature Methods paper where people could read it. And they knew because of all these experiments I had done that the tool was going to work exactly. Like we said, it would, it took the guesswork out of using this protein I made. And the burden of that, the burden of proof was on me. I had us, you know, we had to do a lot of work, but you really shaped that paper up into a good thing. And so I, that inspired me. I was out. So I always looked up to Dan first off.

Rita Strack (00:51:59):
I would say that first Nature Methods paper took me a long, the longest of all my, all my papers. And I think it had probably a six month revision period because I went from just to comparing to one or two fluorescent proteins, comparing my protein to just one or two others to comparing to every other red fluorescent protein that existed and orange. And so it became sort of like a mini analysis alongside a tool paper. And, you know, from I remember being grumpy about it as a grad student, but, you know, with the benefit of hindsight, I really see now from a user perspective, why would I bother re cloning what I have with this new one? Like, why is it worth my time and my energy? That’s the question I had to overcome with my data. Not the simpler question of is this potentially useful, is this novel?

Rita Strack (00:52:58):
Sure. It’s new, but is it worth going to all that effort? And, you know, I think it’s just doing that work made that people what it is now, you know, those proteins are licensed by contact. They’re used around the world. I, you know, I sort of have my hands in a lot of people’s experiments. And I think part of it is because the reviewers and the editors that made your methods pushed us, Pushed us really hard to to show us, to show what we can do. So, so I also keep that in mind when I’m in as an editor, like you know, it’s my job to turn these excellent papers into nature methods, papers, so that when readers come to our journal, they have an expectation that is met. And so I think it’s good. Maybe that I’ve experienced it from both sides.

Peter O’Toole (00:53:44):
What about your motivation? What gets you up in the morning? Who, what pushes you on, what drives you on, what inspires you to be successful in your job or who, or what inspires you to be successful in your job? I create a, is it an external, is it family? Is it someone at work? Is it just purely personal?

Rita Strack (00:54:05):
Okay. This is going to sound like I’ve really sort of drunk the Kool-Aid, but I actually loved Nature Methods when I was, when I was a trainee every month, when nature methods, the table of contents came into my inbox, I would read it, holding my breath, hoping that I didn’t get scooped. I would read every ti every manuscript title. Right. And I’m like, okay, not about fluorescent , not about fluorescent, you know and then after I read it and I could feel like a little relief, then I would go back through and I would read it again more slowly like, Oh, I want to read this paper. I want to read this paper. And I think, I don’t want people to read it out, read our table of contents out of fear that they’re being scooped necessarily, but I want people to come to our journal with that same sort of enthusiasm.

Rita Strack (00:55:01):
So what we, what we’re doing is, as editors is we’re creating every month, we’re creating this journal book, the magazine portion and the research portion that people want to read that they know that they can come to for consistently high quality cutting edge work and creating that product really drives me. And I’m always thinking, what, how can I serve my community? What do scientists want from us? What do they need from us? This drives me on Twitter as well. You know, separate from methods. I think the job of being an editor, the thought process of an editor is very opaque. So part of what I do on Twitter is try to add some transparency, beef. I give frank and honest answers to sometimes critical questions about what it is we do why we think about things certain ways. And so I, so I guess that’s my motivation.

Rita Strack (00:55:51):
I want to make the journal great. Personally, I love this idea of making the process more transparent. I want to improve scientific publishing. There are so many ways it could be made better, and I think positive changes things like preprints, they’re happening. You know, people fundamentally rethinking whether we’re doing peer review the right way, you know, in nature, we’re always doing trials to make the pub the process better. And when they, when they are, when it does make the process better, we incorporate these things when it doesn’t, you know? And so I like being part of, part of all of that. And so I think I can do good work and be an important part of science, even though I’m no longer at the bench.

Peter O’Toole (00:56:36):
So I I’ve got it. I’m going to ask some quick, quick questions in a moment, but I have to ask what’s your next career step then? Cause it sounds like you’re in your dream job as you are at the moment, but go on, do you have a, do you have a ? Oh yeah. But

Rita Strack (00:56:53):
You know, you’re not the first person who’s asked me that recently. And I wonder if it’s something that start people start asking you around here, five or six year in one job, right? Like, what is this, are you going to stay at this? What do you want to do next? I actually don’t know. I think right now, I don’t want to say I’m coasting, but I’ve put a lot of work into being, becoming good at this job. And I really feel in the past two, two years or so, I’ve really been able to reap the benefits of that in terms of having a great relationship with my communities. You know, people feel comfortable talking to me about their papers. I see I’m seeing cool stuff. I’m, I’m very intellectually satisfied. And so when I coupled that to the fact that I have very young kids, I’d say at this particular moment in my life, I’m not especially ambitious career wise, but I think when my daughter starts school proper, you know, kindergarten, that’s going to be two years.

Rita Strack (00:57:57):
I think that’s when I’m really going to start to revisit that question. So for right now, I don’t know, you know, could I see myself being the next chief editor of Nature Methods possibly? No, not that Allison’s not doing a great job, Allison. I love Allison. She’s fantastic. But you know, could I see myself in that role? Absolutely. Could I see myself as a chief editor at another journal? Possibly. I love Methods. So, so, so I’m not sure about that question, you know, will I, you know, there are lots of opportunities for people outside of editorial as well. And so I haven’t explored those options yet, partially because when I’m not working, I’m like laser focused at work. And when I’m home, I’m just focused on my home. So I haven’t explored those things, but I’d probably do what I did when I got this job, which is just cast a wide net. See what you see, what interests me, sparks my curiosity,

Peter O’Toole (00:58:49):
Thinking of home. So I guess this is your exercise regime. So this is obviously yourself, but this is where the, what’s the name of your horse?

Rita Strack (00:59:04):
Oh, she’s Miss. Cooper, Miss. Cooper. so it’s a bit of a long story. So when I bought her, her name was trooper. None of us liked that name and that, but there’s if you have kids that have watched the movie trolls, there’s a character, that’s like a troll horse named Cooper. So my kids really liked that name. And then, because she’s a girl Miss. Cooper, that’s sort of the evolution of that name, but we’ve had her about, I’m a lifelong equestrian. I’ve been riding since I was as young as my kids. But we’ve only had her for about six months.

Peter O’Toole (00:59:46):
Is this your first personal horse?

Rita Strack (00:59:49):
Oh, no. I’ve had horses my whole life. But then when I got, I had two horses when I got pregnant with my son, one was the horse I’d had from childhood who passed away from cancer. He had a tumor in his cheek and the other horse was young and she needed just more riding than I can do when I was pregnant and had an infant. So I sold her. So then I took a six year pause from owning a five-year pause from owning horses. But when we had, after we had my daughter, we decided we were, we were good with two kids. And then I told my husband, I’m going to start riding horses again. So then I started leasing horses, which is basically you don’t buy the it’s like leasing a car. You don’t buy the horse, but you pay to ride a certain amount. And so I’ve been riding for about a year when I came across the advertisement for her. And it was sort of, I rode her and it was sort of love at first sight. So we bought her.

Peter O’Toole (01:00:46):
And, and not just you say your family or now, I appreciate you starting on this as well.

Rita Strack (01:00:52):
Absolutely. I mean, my daughter says that Cooper is her horse, so they both ride,

Peter O’Toole (01:00:57):
So I’ll have to ask, so say my daughter-in-law to be ha ha ha has a horse. And they get up almost as early as I get up in the morning, just so they can go out in the darkness of the morning before it gets light to go over and you know, to, to take her out and feed her look after let her out into the yard and stuff. So it’s quite a lot of work.

Rita Strack (01:01:21):
Yes. If you have the horses on your property, it’s a lot of work. I I’m in a full care boarding facility. So they, we have, it’s a, it’s a farm with probably 30 horses and they have a fantastic barn manager who does all the feeding and cleaning of stalls mucking. And then I just ride two or three times a week. So that takes the burden of the, that the Dawn horse care off of me. Although I did have my, I did have a little emergency with her. She had an eye injury where she, I think she tried to itch her eye on like a stick or something because horses are beautiful and majestic, but not always the smartest. And she got a little swelling and abrasion on her eyes. So I had to check that out. So it’s like being a mom. She is my third child. I have to pay attention to every, you know, go on my horse because I hurt. I have to go out immediately. She’s fine, thankfully. But it is a lot of care, you know for an animal that doesn’t live in our home, she takes up a lot of my mental energy and emotional energy in a good way. I love it.

Peter O’Toole (01:02:29):
I should stress. Daughter-In-Law’s horse, isn’t it? Isn’t it, isn’t it a private yard if it is in stables as well, but they go over every morning and evening we’ll have got her grandpa does as well to look after it. And yeah, they get loads of enjoyment, but Omar, I am allergic to horse hair. So she’s not the best thing because living with us at the moment. So we’ve got both of them. Yeah. When they come in, they just have to get upstairs, lose those clothes, get some fresh clothes on because I have so allergic to horses.

Rita Strack (01:02:59):
I’ve heard, I’ve heard, you’re not the first person I’ve met. Who’s allergic to horses and I don’t, how will you gain that knowledge? How did you learn it? How did you even find out

Peter O’Toole (01:03:10):
It’s an allergic to cats and dogs. But I remember actually as an undergraduate and someone came and sat next to me and they’ve just, just tended their horse. I sat there and, Oh my goodness. I was everything. My eyes, my throat, my chest all went really, really bad beyond what I get for a cat or dog. What’s going on. And then I realized it was someone who’d been with their horse. And then I think parents, you go on holidays and you can get a horse and cart and you can get to, That was not a good place to be. I think it might’ve been Roman on one. It’s like, Hey, you shouldn’t be on any mode of transport in Rome cause that’s a bit crazy anyway. But yeah. Yes, I was so ill. It was like, just get me off it

Peter O’Toole (01:03:56):
You quickly realize that that isn’t one for me. So when you’re at home, what would you rather do read a book or watch TV?

Rita Strack (01:04:04):
Oh, I’m definitely, I’m always on my Kindle reading on my, I read on my phone, which I think I love paper books, but reading my phone is so convenient. I’m forever reading, reading on my phone.

Peter O’Toole (01:04:15):
You read for your work, you read at home. Oh my goodness. Fact or fiction when you’re doing it for leisure.

Rita Strack (01:04:24):
You know, I, I, for leisure, I do read fiction, but I have been trying to educate myself and improve myself. So I’ve been trying to read more literature on equality, racism, how to be anti-racist. So I’d say some non-fiction is certainly populated my, my bookshelf the past year fiction. What type of fiction? I would say usually the things that are like shortlisted for the Booker man Booker prize, you know, I try, I read I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been reading a lot of American women writers, writing, fictional stories about, I dunno, not like be treating, but definitely human stories, family stories, things like that.

Peter O’Toole (01:05:19):
Okay. And which

Rita Strack (01:05:22):
I don’t read, I don’t read science literature. I don’t read science nonfiction. I do read some Sci Fi but not lately actually.

Peter O’Toole (01:05:31):
Are you a morning bird Night Owl or burn it at both ends?

Rita Strack (01:05:36):
Definitely a morning person. Absolutely. I wake up every morning to exercise before my kids are up. I run three or four days a week. And then on my off days I do like sort of speed walking all on my treadmill. So that’s my on the treadmill. I, I do, I, I know people call it the dreadmill, but for me I do, I do short runs. I typically run under four miles in one go. So to me, the treadmill is not bad. I just turn on my music and I just get it done with

Peter O’Toole (01:06:11):
Not just flat. You get the inclines going.

Rita Strack (01:06:14):
Yeah. my treadmill has like a hill program and you can adjust the incline as at your leisure, although let’s be honest, I’m sometimes lazy and I’ll just the flats in the morning, but definitely a morning person by the evening. I have to sort of peel myself off the couch and you know, up to bed.

Peter O’Toole (01:06:38):
So at that point, you getting towards an evening though, would you rather get a takeaway or cook in normal times

Rita Strack (01:06:47):
In normal times? Yeah. Well, that’s a great question. You know, I’m not really a foodie, but I’ve been spoiled in my travels. Like I’ve been to, because for work I’ve been to Japan, Paris, London, I’ve been all around the world. And so when it comes to that sort of eating I’m absolutely. I want to eat at nice restaurants. But at home I’d say we we probably cook six nights a week at home, you know, just, just simple food, like protein and a fresh vegetable. And then, well, I think our little indulgence lately has been Thai food, but we’ve been ordering more takeout lately to support local businesses because we want them to exist once the pandemic is over. And the only way we can do that is by ordering from them.

Peter O’Toole (01:07:35):
What’s your favorite food type, if you could, if you could, if you have, what is the, if you, if you or your husband wanted to take you out for an anniversary, what would be the food type that most gets you excited?

Rita Strack (01:07:47):
Oh, definitely Korean food. I mean, I’m spoiled because my grandma and my mom cook excellent Korean food and you know, we are, they’re part of my bubble. So we eat together quite a bit. One of my favorite foods is called tteokbokki and we’re having this Sunday, so I’m spoiled with my access to Korean food, but it’s easily my favorite. I grew up eating it. That’s what I crave.

Peter O’Toole (01:08:11):
Okay. Really quick fire answers, coffee or tea.

Rita Strack (01:08:17):
Oh, both. Both of those. Okay. If I had to pick one coffee I would pick coffee, water. You know what? I’m a teetotaler. I don’t drink since my pregnancy. So water

Peter O’Toole (01:08:32):
On that one. So do you do decaf coffees?

Rita Strack (01:08:35):
Yes. I do decaf coffee as well,

Peter O’Toole (01:08:50):
Twice a week. I’d say, especially for exercise, because exercise on the caffeine is awesome. It just, just the only drug I’m allowed to take. Yeah. I don’t talk about the ones I’m not allowed to take. No, I’m joking. We are, actually, I think we’ve run over an hour. This has gone so fast. I got a really quick answer. So I really want to ask you, what do you think has been the greatest invention in microscopy, which has been the most profound

Rita Strack (01:09:22):
Technology even ever. Yeah. it’s really difficult, isn’t it? Oh my gosh. I mean, going back to my earlier answer, I think so much biology has been learned on a, what we would call a conventional Widefield epi fluorescence microscope. So I think that design, you know, you know, you get diffraction limited resolution and that is good for a lot of science. So I’m going to go with that.

Peter O’Toole (01:09:54):
Would it be possible without the epi fluorescence microscope? Is that fundamental change, which I think was, Das Plume, I think that, that did the, the fundamentals at, and he never got a Nobel prize. And actually, if you think about those basics, I don’t think a Nobel prize was ever given for confocal microscopy, which again

Peter O’Toole (01:10:14):
Probably had

Peter O’Toole (01:10:15):
A bigger impact than almost anything else to date. I guess maybe because they were not so impacting until fluorescent proteins. So maybe it’s the probe. That was the biggest impact that enabled, that enabled that technology to be realised. I’ll be giving a longer answer. Sorry, I’m going to finish on this. Do you have these really difficult question of best science joke?

Rita Strack (01:10:41):
Okay. This is not the best, but it is a science joke. So I was reading a book on helium. I couldn’t put it down. I don’t know about my delivery. My stand-up comedy is very rusty.

Peter O’Toole (01:11:04):
It was fine. I expected your voice to go high pitch, but

Rita Strack (01:11:10):
That would’ve been good. Okay. Redo.

Peter O’Toole (01:11:14):
That’s brilliant. It’s been really lovely to chat, to meet you and actually chat with you. I actually, I didn’t get through half of the different things I actually wanted to get through, but it’s been brilliant to get a different career perspective. And I hope everyone who’s been listening has really enjoyed getting, an insight to what it feels like to be in the editor’s position. A lot of people on the other side and just the complexities involved, if you’re not a hardcore scientist, the complexities of even getting your work published and the difficulties that that can involve from both sides. So I hope people has got a good appreciation of that. And thank you for watching or thank you for listening, whichever format you’ve chosen. If you’ve listened, go and watch it. Cause there were pictures of brilliance and don’t forget to subscribe to the channels as well. Rita, thank you very much.

Rita Strack (01:12:00):
Thank you so much. I’m so flattered that you chose me. I’ve had a great time. Really brilliant.

Peter O’Toole (01:12:10):
Thank you for listening to The Microscopists, a Bitesize Bio podcast, sponsored by Zeiss Microscopy. To view all audio and video recordings from this series, please visit

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