Cooperation theory

show/hide words to know

Apocalypse: a big disaster that affects the world and human societies.

Biannual: happening every two years.

Boundary: a real or imaginary separation between two things.

Meld: to blend or combine things together.

Synchronization: when two or more things are lined up in movement or in time.

Career Path for Athena Aktipis

Fast Facts:

  • Number of years in school: 21
  • Favorite class / subject: Science
  • Hardest class / subject: Calculus
  • First Job: Educator at waste management and recycling center
  • Dream job as a kid: Acrobat
  • One word you would use to describe your current job: Engaging

Two tango dancers

Dancing is an act of cooperation between two people. These two people are dancing the tango together. Image by Alex Proimos.

Two dancers walk up to each other and join hands. Suddenly, these two separate people seem to be moving as one. As a scientist who studies partnerships in nature, Athena Aktipis likes the synchronization that happens between two people as they dance together. Her love for partner dancing has always been a part of her life. She even taught at her own dance studio while she was still learning to be a scientist. These days, she’ll often come home after a hard day of teaching and research, and put on her dancing shoes.

Dancing to Her Own Tune

Aktipis has always followed her interests, even if they didn’t seem to work together at first. Throughout her life, well-meaning people would tell her to find a focus. However, she realized that if she found the common thread between the things she loves to study, she could organize her different interests around one core idea. For her, that idea was cooperation and conflict. Her research follows that theme, whether she studies tribes in Africa, how gut bacteria affect our appetite, or how cancer cells spread.

Don't Give Up One for Another

Green cliffs overlooking the ocean

Growing up, Aktipis would read psychology books along ocean cliffs. She learned early on that she could pursue many different things that she loved. Image by Jon Sullivan.

Combining interests has always been a theme for Aktipis—she often melds her love for learning with other parts of her life. In high school, during the summer, she would travel with her parents. On these trips, she brought psychology books with her to read on cliffs overlooking the ocean. In graduate school when she had her first baby, she often took her to school with her, showing others it was possible to blend family and work life.

Aktipis says the best part of her job now is that she can keep asking questions, learning new things, and melding new ideas together every day. Besides mentoring students, teaching, and communicating what she does, she likes to work with many other scientists.

From Dance Partners to Science Partners

Illustration for the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting at ASU.

Aktipis started a biannual Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting so that scientists could have a fun way of being creative together.

She especially likes working with scientists who study different things, but who are excited about the same topic. They can teach each other and think up new research ideas. By working with others, she has come up with new theories of cooperation, and started a conference about medicine and zombies.

In her work, her personal life, and in dance, Aktipis enjoys melding different ideas, people, or movements in new ways. Taking this approach in science has helped her combine her research with the work of others as they push the boundaries of the unknown together.

Cooperation or Conflict was created in collaboration with The Biodesign Institute at ASU. Visit Athena Aktipis's website to learn more about her research.

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Career Path: Athena Aktipis
  • Author(s): Ioulia Bespalova
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: September 4, 2018
  • Date accessed: July 15, 2024
  • Link:

APA Style

Ioulia Bespalova. (2018, September 04). Career Path: Athena Aktipis. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved July 15, 2024 from

American Psychological Association. For more info, see

Chicago Manual of Style

Ioulia Bespalova. "Career Path: Athena Aktipis". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 04 September, 2018.

MLA 2017 Style

Ioulia Bespalova. "Career Path: Athena Aktipis". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 04 Sep 2018. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 15 Jul 2024.

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see
Athena Aktipis
Athena Aktipis studies cooperation and conflict in many relationships, whether between humans or cells.

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