UW Bothell School of STEM professor receives prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award

kristina hillesland

Kristina Hillesland, Ph.D., has received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. The CAREER Award is the NSF’s premier young investigator award, which integrates the investigator’s research and teaching.

This CAREER award is the third to be received by a UW Bothell faculty member over the last three years

Hillesland, an assistant professor in UW Bothell’s School of STEM biological sciences division, studies the interaction between microorganisms, with the goal of understanding how evolution affects and is affected by the interactions between species. She says this research can be the basis to understanding a great deal about evolution, “If we ever want to find or confirm general biological principles about species interaction evolution, we must consider microbes.”

Hillesland says the biological world is full of interesting traits that result from the interactions of one species with another. For example, some microorganisms are known to be predators, others cooperate.

A greater understanding of the evolutionary process is only one benefit of Hillesland’s CAREER award. She plans to engage UW Bothell undergraduate students in her research at multiple levels, “This will allow me to incorporate more students in research, which will help them learn better and give them a better sense of how science operates.” Hillesland also proposed designing two courses, “I will use two approaches to teach undergraduates studying microbiology that evolution is an ongoing process that affects their lives, about the parameters affecting its rate, and approaches for testing hypotheses in microbial evolution.” She says she will assist two postdoctoral students in learning to teach and develop their own independent research programs.

In the community, Hillesland plans to continue discussing her work on evolution with local churches. She will also share her experiences as a female scientist with UW Bothell’s women in science group and wants to encourage the involvement of underrepresented minorities and women in her research.

The award totals $978,624 over five years.

Hillesland received her B.S. in biology from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington and her Ph.D. in microbiology and molecular genetics from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. Prior to joining the faculty at UW Bothell in 2011, Hillesland conducted postdoctoral research in the University of Washington’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.