VitisGen2 Staff Spotlight – Heather Scott

Heather Scott joined the Sacks lab in September 2017 as a technician, managing the fruit quality center for VitisGen2. Previously she worked for seven years in the Horticulture department managing a lab that studies nutrient management in soils. Heather came back to research after two years in the Peace Corps in Mauritania, West Africa, and six years teaching high school biology in New York City and Ithaca. She finds grape samples to be much more emotionally stable than fifteen-year-olds. She has a masters in plant biology from UC-Davis and a masters in science education from Columbia Teachers College, but her true loyalties lie with the mighty Spiders at University of Richmond, where she studied Biology and French as an undergraduate.
How did you end up in this job?
Who could resist a job posting about wine and grapes? This job appealed because of its noble goal to help specialty crop producers grow better grapes with fewer inputs. Supporting agriculture, and hopefully preserving the rural way of life, seemed like a wonderful way to make a living. Also, the word on the street was that Gavin Sacks was great to work for. I only found out later that he went to UVA. Alas, nobody is perfect!

What is your role with the VitisGen2 project?
I oversee the grape chemistry analyses for the fruit quality team of VitisGen2. My favorite part of this work is getting to mentor undergraduate Cornellians and training future scientists. I find our students to be inspiring, dedicated and sharp—they are always the first to catch problems in our workflow and improve efficiency.

A big part of VitisGen2 is collaboration between teams and University – is there an example of a time you collaborated with someone unexpected or that collaboration had a big impact on you personally or professionally?
I’ve enjoyed getting out to the beautiful vineyards in Geneva, and getting to know our collaborators in Missouri, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Harvesting grapes is so much more pleasant than, say, scraping the soil clinging to the roots of corn, that I can’t believe my luck!

What is the most exciting thing you’ve learned or done since starting work with VitisGen2?
Harvesting grapes at Anthony Road vineyard while the bird deterrent gun goes off tops the list!

What’s a typical day like for you, including both work tasks and what you look forward to when you get home?
A typical day for me includes meeting my undergraduate research assistants in the lab, setting up our priorities for the day and the week, and troubleshooting any issues we’re having with grape analyses. Exciting days include receiving frozen shipments from around the country, or sharing interesting data with Gavin and our lab group. After work I head home to find four knuckleheads—two insane puppies and two somewhat sane human children, age 3 and 7—ready to play!