Student Spotlight: Expanding Horizons in the Lab, Anna Jones (BS '23)

Sept. 29, 2020

From her first step on campus, Anna Jones wanted to grow her passion of environmental science and find a way to get involved in undergraduate research.


Women working in an environmental science lab
Environmental science major Anna Jones gets instruction in Dr. Malak Tfaily's lab in early 2020.

Jones (BS Environmental Science '23) first learned about research by helping graduate students work on their theses. Now, she works in a lab that uses analytical and geochemical techniques to better understand issues like climate change, aiming to inspire the next generation of scientists.


Anna Jones (BS Environmental Science '23)

“Make the most of your experience by talking to people," says Jones. "It’s because I got involved in my department that I’m working in a lab that’s a great fit for me.”

Adapting to the covid-19 pandemic, Jones makes a point of more frequently to connect with friends, family and club members through digital means. Although it has been a transition, Jones is focused on sustaining the connections and planning out her research project.

Science as a Career Path

“I’ve always been interested in nature-oriented studies and spending time outdoors, but I was not entirely sure what I wanted to do with my future,” says Jones, originally from Toledo, Ohio.  

That was, until she participated in a program the summer of her junior year of high school, helping graduate students with their research on pollen quality and the nesting habitat of turtles. From there, Jones knew she wanted to pursue a career in science to continue learning about the world around her.

Thinking about how to pursue that path in college, the decision to attend the University of Arizona came easy to Jones. 

“Not only is the environmental science program rigorous, but the scholarships awarded to out-of-state students were outstanding,” said Jones. “When I stepped on the campus for the first time and was immersed in the environment, I knew this was the place where I wanted to be.” 

Attracted to the community-oriented aspect in the Department of Environmental Science, Jones sought a way to immerse herself in the major. So, she became an ENVS Peer Mentor, meeting new students and helping them navigate through college. Now, the next step was to find that opportunity to do research in a lab.

Opportunity in an Ecosystem Genomics Lab

Although the ‘turtle pond’ on campus is one of her favorite places to hang out with friends, Jones didn’t necessarily want to continue to study turtles. 

“I didn’t really expect to be admitted into a lab, especially as an undergraduate student. I was very nervous about it all, but talked with Dr. Scott Cowell in the Careers in Environmental Science class that all first-year environmental science students take.” said Jones. “He recommended me to Dr. Malak Tfaily’s ecosystem genomics lab.”

The Tfaily lab focuses on soil organic matter metabolomics, led by Assistant Professor Malak Tfaily in the BIO5 Institute. 


Student working in environmental lab
Jones analyzes samples in the lab of assistant professor Malak Tfaily

“In the Tfaily lab, I’ve learned about different specializations in environmental science and how to perform research. I’m also learning analytical scientific techniques so that I can begin my own mini-project, which will include culturing peatland bacteria and seeing how different bacteria species compete for resources coming from Sphagnum mosses.” said Jones.

The lab’s research revolves around carbon cycling in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, trying to understand the interactions of microbial communities and organic matter and how this affects ecosystems. This research is important for understanding big issues like climate change; the carbon cycle plays a critical role in regulating our global temperature and climate by controlling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“I love Anna’s energy. She is an intelligent and a hard working person with a strong passion for science and learning,” says Tfaily.

One of Jones’ favorite parts of working in a laboratory is expanding her horizons and seeing real-world connections of how her class assignments connect with her work in the lab.

Future Aspirations as a Teacher

Jones wants research as part of her future and plans to continue into the department's Accelerated Master’s Program, with a goal of teaching the next generation of scientists.

“I love to learn. And in that same vein, I know I would love to teach future students about my passion for environmental science.”