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Principal Investigator

Paula Welander

Associate Professor
Department of Earth System Science
Department of Biology (By Courtesy)

Paula Welander is a microbiologist who received her undergraduate degree from Occidental College in Los Angeles. She pursued her PhD studies in microbiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and completed her postdoctoral studies at MIT in the Departments of Biology and of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. In 2013, Paula joined the Earth System Science faculty at Stanford, where her current research focuses on understanding the biosynthesis and physiological function of lipid biomarkers, or "molecular fossils," in extant bacteria.

Art of Paula Welander

About Me

I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley in northern Los Angeles. My parents immigrated from Mexico to SanFer over 45 years ago where they taught my siblings and I the value of family, hard work, and laughter.

After finishing high school, I attend Occidental College. At Oxy, I had a wonderful undergraduate research experience in the microbiology lab of Prof. Mark O. Martin (now a professor at the University of Puget Sound). It was in Doc Martin's lab where my fascination with microbiology was born and where I decided to pursue a career in science.

Oxy was also where I met my husband, Paul, who convinced me to apply to graduate schools outside of California. We both pursued graduate degrees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where I worked in the lab of Prof. Bill Metcalf. In Bill's lab, I pursued a project studying methanogens, anaerobic microbes belonging to the third domain of life - the archaea - which provided me training in microbial genetics and physiology.  At Illinois, we also welcomed our two kids, Katherine and Daniel, into the world and immediately introduced them to the joys of Illini basketball. We even got the inspiration for Daniel's name from my favorite Illini!

We completed our graduate degrees in the fall of 2007 and moved on to the East Coast where Paul began a staff scientist position at MIT Lincoln Labs in Lexington, MA, I started a postdoc in the lab of Prof. Dianne K. Newman in the Biology Department at MIT. It was Dianne who introduced me to the exciting world of geobiology and in her lab I began studying hopanoids in photosynthetic bacteria. Two years into my postdoc, Dianne decided to move her lab to Caltech. Although I was unable to join the Newman Lab at Caltech, I was very thankful to join the lab of our collaborator, Prof. Roger E. Summons, in the EAPS Department at MIT. In Roger's lab I was able to begin my research on sterol biology in methanotrophic bacteria. I am also forever grateful to EAPS Prof. Tanja Bosak, in whose lab I was able to do most of my culturing and molecular work.

In December of 2012, after three years on the job market and many interviews, I joined the faculty of the Department of Earth System Science in the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences at Stanford. It has been an amazing and sometimes difficult journey to build my research group, develop our research program, and learn to teach effectively. But it has been a lot of fun and I have had the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing people. Our goal in the Welander Lab is to continue to do great science and to use our privilege to build an inclusive and equitable community here at Stanford and in the broader academic community.

Beyond science I enjoy reading, running, spending time with my family, and spoiling our dog, Tommy.


Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Microbiology (2007)
M.S., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Microbiology (2003)
B.A., Occidental College, Kinesiology (1998)


Molecular geomicrobiology
Microbial physiology
Microbial evolution
Microbial genetics
Biosynthesis of lipid biomarkers

Stanford Affiliations