Interview with Tansley Medal Winner 2012: Robin Hopkins

Last updated: 3 Jul, 2013

This year’s Tansley Medal Winner was Robin Hopkins from the University of Texas, Austin, USA. The Tansley Medal is a prestigious award which recognises scientists in the early stages of their careers, who have made an outstanding contribution to research in plant science.  Applicants are initially asked to submit a CV and statement and if shortlisted are asked to write a minireview which is sent for external peer review and subject to the normal high standards required by New Phytologist.

Robin’s research focuses on the role of natural selection in speciation and has published primary research papers in a range of journals including among others, papers in Nature, Science, and New Phytologist. Her Tansley Medal winning minireview entitled ‘Reinforcement in plants’ , highlights her contribution to research.


We conducted a short interview with Robin to find out a bit more about the person behind the outstanding scientist.


What inspired your interest in plant science? Were you drawn in from an early age, or was there someone or something that sparked it?

I grew up playing in my mom’s perennial garden and have loved plants since before I could hold a watering can.  I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t fascinated by what was living and growing around me.  I have always loved being outside and playing in nature.  I did not realize I could have a career in science until 8th grade, but from that point on, it’s all I wanted to do.


Why did you decide to pursue a career in research? What/who led you specifically down the path of plant evolutionary research?

The moment I learned that a science professor got paid to do research and teach I was convinced that’s what I wanted to do.  My 8th grade science teacher realized my interest and helped me apply to be part of the University of Vermont NSF EPSCoR high school outreach program.  The opportunity to visit a scientific laboratory on a University campus was formative in shaping my desire to be a professor.

I did not link my love for plants with my desire to do research until my sophomore year in college when I had the opportunity to work in Dr. Johanna Schmitt’s laboratory at Brown University.  She was an incredible mentor and taught me to be a scientist and encouraged me to follow my dreams. 


Robin's work is centred on Phlox species.


What motivates you to go to work on a day-to-day basis?

I love what I do.  I enjoy the challenge of learning new things and the freedom to follow my research interests. There’s always more to learn and that keeps me excited and motivated.


Who do you see as your role model(s)?

My undergraduate advisor, Dr. Johanna Schmitt is my greatest scientific role model.  Her continued passion of science, and her commitment to her students, her research, and her scientific community are some of the reasons she remains an inspiration to me. 


What’s your favourite thing about your job?

I love the freedom to explore the research questions that interest me.   I enjoy the diversity of methods and approaches that are possible to address a particular scientific question.


… and your least favourite?

I get frustrated that scientific progress is often limited by funding.  There is an abundance of creative ideas and talented scientists and not enough money to fund them all.


Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 20 years time?

I would like to be a professor researching plant evolutionary biology, teaching undergraduates and mentoring graduate students and postdocs for the next 5, 10, 15, and 20 years!


What are you doing if you’re not working?

I love backpacking, hiking, rock climbing, and cooking.



There's more to being a scientist than bench work


What advice would you give to an aspiring plant biologist / researcher?

If you love it, keep doing it.  There are lots of rejections and failures but if you love what you do the few successes make it all worth it (so far at least).


Why did you apply for the New Phytologist Tansley Medal and how do you think it might benefit your career?

My PhD advisor, Professor Mark Rausher, encouraged me to apply for the Tansley Medal.  I hope that work like mine can help demonstrate how research in plants can address fundamental question in evolutionary biology.


Would you advise other people to apply for the New Phytologist Tansley Medal?

I would strongly advise other plant scientist to apply for the Tansley Medal.  I found writing the mini-review an extremely valuable experience because it helped me realize how my dissertation research fits into the broader field of plant speciation research.



If you have comments or more questions for Robin or about the Tansley Medal, do get in touch on Twitter or contact us here.

For more information about Robin’s research, visit or contact her on robin(dot)hopkins(at)