My trajectory to becoming a plant biologist was shaped by a complex mix of scientific, political, sociological, and personal factors. I was trained as a microbiologist and molecular biologist in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time of political upheaval surrounding the Vietnam War. My political activism taught me to be wary of the potential misuses of scientific knowledge and to promote the positive applications of science for the benefit of society. I chose agricultural science for my postdoctoral work. Because I was not trained as a plant biologist, I devised a postdoctoral project that took advantage of my microbiological training, and I explored using genetic technologies to transfer the ability to fix nitrogen from prokaryotic nitrogen-fixing species to the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana with the ultimate goal of engineering crop plants. The invention of recombinant DNA technology greatly facilitated the cloning and manipulation of bacterial nitrogen-fixation (nif) genes, but it also forced me to consider how much genetic engineering of organisms, including human beings, is acceptable. My laboratory has additionally studied host–pathogen interactions using Arabidopsis and the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as model hosts.