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ASU faculty member pairs science, communication

Karla Moeller's passion for science, writing resulted in a new children's book, 'Joryn Looked Up'


Karla Moeller graduated with a PhD in biology from the School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2016.

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May 03, 2018

Arizona State University is a school of master learners — those capable of learning and thriving in anything they set out to accomplish. Karla Moeller, alumna and faculty member, is a prime example of a master learner, utilizing her diverse skill sets to succeed in each new venture she pursues.

Moeller graduated with a doctorate in biology from the School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2016, where she focused her research on Gila monsters and how dehydration affects the physiological function in reptiles.

In addition to her research, Moeller explored other areas of interest during her time at ASU and found she also has a love for communication. However, biology is one thing she keeps coming back to.

“I've always had very broad interests, but biology is the one thing that kept me hooked,” Moeller said. “Even now, I find myself straddling science research and science communication, so I'd say my interests are still broad, but overall I am fascinated by how things work — how bodies work, how people think, how animals survive — and when I learn something, I like passing that information along to others.”

Moeller now focuses her research on ecophysiology and how survival strategies change throughout an individual's lifetime, and has found a way to utilize her knowledge and passion for biology by translating it into her work as an editor and content creator for Ask A Biologist, a learning website created to engage people of all ages with biology.

“We work to highlight the diversity of biology — both in terms of the subject matter we cover, and in the type of information we offer, whether it be answers to questions, creative stories about different organisms or ideas, interviews with scientists, summaries of new research, or career information,” Moeller said. “Ask A Biologist is a unique learning resource because it represents the voices of hundreds of scientists.”

Content for the website is generated from a collective of minds from the School of Life Sciences, including graduate students, teaching assistants, website creator Chuck Kazilek and Moeller herself. Together, the team works to create a website that educates and provides an entertaining learning experience for students of all backgrounds.

“We really try to focus on accessibility, not just of different ages, but of different cultures,” Moeller said. “We try to write for a global audience and we continue to expand the number of stories offered in other languages. Right now we have material in 12 languages besides English.”

In addition to her research and work in website development, Moeller recently published her first children’s book, “Joryn Looked Up”. Moeller said she wrote the first draft of the book when she was experiencing a lot of change in her life.

“Before I came to ASU, my life was full of change: changing cities, changing jobs, the new friends that come with that, and doing this every few months, as is common in the life of a field biologist who works temporary jobs,” Moeller said.

“I wanted to write a story that communicated how scary change can feel, especially separation from someone you love, but that also showed how a lot of things can survive through change. I tried to think of where in the animal kingdom we see an abrupt — but totally relatable — change during a period of growing up. I thought of a kangaroo when it finally has to leave its mother’s pouch, and so Joryn’s story was born.”

Moeller's story centers around a young kangaroo, Joryn, who doesn’t want to accept the fact that he no longer fits in his mother’s pouch. He still tries to fit in the pouch every night, but one day his mother shows him the wonder of the world outside of the pouch, and he learns to love something besides his mother.

The book also has an animal and plant glossary where readers can learn more about all the different organisms pictured throughout the book — a biologist’s touch.

Moeller said her time spent at the School of Life Sciences allowed her to gain skills in biology and communication, which benefited her other career opportunities.

“I think the School of Life Sciences was the perfect place for me,” Moeller said. “It gave me a strong background in science, but also offered a huge number of opportunities to learn in these other ways. The structure of ASU and the school is setup to encourage people to be well-rounded and interdisciplinary, and I found my niche by pursuing both science and communication. That diversity of experience is a powerful tool for me moving forward in my career.”

Although it can seem difficult to juggle multiple interests, Moeller proves that it is possible to combine skills and make an impact on various platforms. Her advice to students is to get a well-rounded education. She emphasizes that writing, even as a biologist, plays an important role in success after college.

“[My position] impacts me and helps me grow every day,” Moeller said. “[Everyone] I work with teaches me how to be a better communicator, or editor, or teacher, or designer. Writing well, whether for a grant app, a resume, or an email, will help you get farther than you think.”

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