Interview by Ben Winterhalter

When Dr. Steve Kay, the dean of USC Dornsife, finished his graduate work on genetics at UK’s University of Bristol, there were three words on his mind: “get to America.” In a brief conversation with me, Dr. Kay described his early-career vision of America classically: a place where determination can meet opportunity. Dr. Kay succeeded in arranging such a meeting and never looked back. He started his academic career at The Rockefeller University, studying the genetic basis of circadian rhythms and went on to The University of Virginia and The Scripps Research Institute before heading west to USC.

He’s recognized as one of the foremost experts in understanding how plants and animals process the natural cycle of night and day. He works alongside other talented researchers at the Kay Laboratory, where he and his colleagues have identified a genetic switch that regulates a plant’s internal clock based on temperature, which may lead to plants that can better adapt to climate change. Among other honors, Dr. Kay is a fellow at the National Academy of Sciences, was awarded the American Society of Plant Biologists’ Martin Gibbs, and was named one of “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” by Thomson Reuters.

Dr. Kay told me that he’s always valued being involved in lab research, which he’s pursued both in the private sector and the academy, but that he’s also passionate about sharing his knowledge through teaching. It shows. His warm demeanor—no doubt familiar to his students, lab mates, and colleagues—is matched only by his achievements in research. So please, feel free, ask him anything…

As a reminder—or an introduction for those of you new to the series—here’s how our Ask Me Anything works:


  • This post is our open call for questions directed to the expert (Dr. Steve Kay).
  • You can submit your questions—using the form below—until Friday of next week.
  • We will then forward a selection of your questions to the expert.
  • The answers will run the following week.

We encourage you to share this campaign—and your questions!—via email and social media.

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Image credit: John Davey via flickr

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