Dr. Alice Ortmann

  • How did you get interested in science? 

As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a veterinarian. It wasn’t until I hit the first year of my undergraduate that I decided I didn’t want to be a veterinarian, I wanted to go into research. We had to take a plant was either vascular plants or non-vascular plants. I went with the non-vascular plants, the algae and the seaweeds. Dr. Louis Druehl's personality and his course were just amazing, and that probably pushed me into the marine sciences more than anything else. We had a field trip out to a marine lab on the west coast of Vancouver Island, out in the middle of nowhere. It was just the most eye opening moment for me. From there on, I focused on marine biology. I had the opportunity to do a full semester out of the lab where Dr. Druehl was working and it was just fantastic. 

  • What do you like best about being a professor?

I teach mostly graduate students. I really enjoy teaching concepts and being challenged by the students. It’s not unusual for me to actually learn something when I am trying to teach. To me that’s really an awesome aspect of the job...I am always learning things. Just having the flexibility to ask the questions that really drive me and interest me...then follow those questions wherever they take me. 

  • What drives you and your research? 

It’s the fact that you are doing something where nobody knows the answer, and there’s always new questions and sometimes a lot of surprises. So you can have a perfectly reasonable hypothesis and you go out and do your experiments and take your observations and you analyze the data and you realize that that hypothesis isn’t true and what you were thinking was happening was potentially something totally different, so you get to go in a different direction. It’s always something a little bit new and different and it can be really exciting when you have that little aha moment of understanding what you’ve been observing. 

  • What do you find most rewarding about working with your research team? 

For me, it’s watching them grow as scientists. They come into the lab and some of them have had a little bit of research experience and some of them haven’t. Every summer I have undergraduates in my lab as well. It’s the chance to see them not only learning the techniques, but also learning how to ask questions and figure out how to answer those experiments and working through the whole process, so that at the end of it they realize that they’re scientists too.

  • What are the three most important qualities for women scientists?

I think number one is self confidence. Women, in general, are not really good at being as self confident as men seem to be. Also, being a little thick-skinned and realizing that it’s not personal most of the time. You get reviews back on papers or grants and it’s hard not to take it personally, but you have to step back and realize it’s only one aspect of you that is being criticized, it’s not your entire life. And the third one is just being a little bit creative and having something else...not being completely sucked into work and science.

  • What do you like to do in your spare time?

I volunteer with an animal rescue foundation. I’ve been trying to make vegan cheese, which is kind of "sciency" i guess, but fun. I like gardening and scuba diving (see photo below). 


                                                                                             Dr. Ortmann with two of her research assistants, Lei Wang and Natalie Ortell.

                                                                                             Dr. Ortmann with two of her research assistants, Lei Wang and Natalie Ortell.


"Figure out what you want and go for it. Do what makes you happy, as opposed to doing it all, or doing what you think other people are expecting from you. Be open to change so if what you want changes, just be open to that." 

- Alice Ortmann, PhD