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Kelly Swarts

Previously a Graduate Student at Cornell University;

Now a Postdoctoral Fellow at Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology   

Contact Information:

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology 


How I Became a Scientist:

I have always liked understanding how systems work and how they came to be the way that they are.  In high school my favorite subject was biology, and my family spent a lot of time outdoors, including going camping out west every summer.  My family also travelled a lot, and I was always interested in the differences and similarities between people across the world. In high school I realized that this had a name when I was introduced to anthropology, or the study of human cultural systems.


Starting as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan and following me in my work as an archaeologist in the southwest US, I combined my interest in biology and anthropology through the study of paleoethnobotany, or how humans interact with their environment. These studies, mostly through the morphological analysis of plant remains from archaeological sites, can tell you about things like seasonality of site use, diet, the local environment, and cultural preferences.


During my time in the southwest, I came to realize that the questions I was most interested in related to maize agriculture, the fundamental structuring principal for modern indigenous people of the American SW. Domesticated plants and animals are uniquely suited for studying the formation of cultural systems since they are independent biological organisms with genetically coded potential and limitations but are also cultural artifacts, recording the dietary preferences and farming practices of all of the people who helped shaped them.  In my work as a paleoethnobotanist, I came to realize that genetics offered a powerful tool for understanding the past, and came to Cornell to study as a graduate student.


Maize is one of the most important grains on the planet, and studying the diversity of maize can help us understand who we are and where we came from. Also, by studying the lessons of the past, maize studies can help us to make more informed decisions about how to breed for a more productive and sustainable future.



2011-Present    Ph.D Candidate, Plant Breeding and Genetics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

2008                M.A. Anthropology, with Distinction, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ

2005                B.S. Biology and Anthropology, with Honors, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI




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