What are you planning to do next year and what do you plan to be doing five years from now?
Next year I'll be pursuing my PhD in the Graduate Group in Ecology at UC Davis. I'll be in the Rosenheim lab working on plant-insect interactions with a focus on agricultural systems. That's an easy one, but five years from now is a different question... Hopefully, at that point, I'll be finishing up with grad school and looking for employment. I've yet to decide exactly what I plan to do for work, but I don't want to rule out any options: academia is certainly on the table, as is research for a government agency or private company. Agricultural ecology has a wealth of opportunities, especially outside of academia, and I intend to consider all of them.
Why did you choose Biology as a major and how did you go about choosing the 300-level Biology courses that you took?
I had always enjoyed biology classes as a high school student and decided I wanted to pursue something related in college, but I wasn't quite sure what area I was most interested in. The biology major at CSB/SJU allows for a broad exploration of many areas of biology, which allows for flexibility as well as a more well-rounded future biologist. When it came to choosing my upper level courses, I honestly just went for the classes that sounded the most interesting, which ended up bringing me to a better understanding of what I wanted to do in the future. I read course descriptions, talked to other students, and took the courses that grabbed my attention most strongly, which ended up being courses trending towards ecology. There were also some courses that were nearly mandatory for anyone looking to pursue a graduate degree in any area of biology, such as genetics, a field that plays a strong role in every other area of biological study.
How have your vocational/career goals evolved during your time at CSB/SJU?
I have never had very concrete career goals as an undergraduate, but my understanding of my own professional and academic interests has grown immensely. Ecology always interested me, but I really thought the only route that made sense was to work for the government, perhaps the DNR. I was able to get an internship position last summer with the DNR, and it was an incredibly rewarding experience, partially because it helped me realize that I wanted to pursue research in a more academic setting. The summer before that, I had done research with Bill Lamberts, which allowed me to compare and contrast the two experiences and realize which one was a better fit for me.
How have your capabilities evolved during your time at CSB/SJU and what has most contributed to that evolution?
I have become a better thinker, learner, listener, researcher, and student, and I attribute a lot of that growth to the breadth of the liberal arts education. My experiences in the Biology department have contributed greatly to that education, helping to shape me into a more critically thinking researcher. I have had a number of amazing professors who pushed me not just to learn material, but to understand processes and how to think like a biologist. Perhaps the most unique and rewarding experiences have been my several opportunities to conduct original research. The spring of my sophomore year, I worked with Steve Saupe on a project investigating the effects of spile size on sap yield in the maple sugar bush at SJU, which sparked my interest in research in a major way. The following summer, I worked with Bill Lamberts investigating several aspects of the shallow lakes and wetlands on campus. I was also able to present that research at several events on campus as well as one at the state capitol and one at the University of Kentucky, which exposed me to a broader world of academia. Finally, I completed an honors thesis this year investigating the effects of fish kairomones on heart rate in Daphnia pulex, which was the most independent and complete research experience thus far. Seeing a study through from start to finish was incredibly rewarding and made me confident in my ability to do research in the future, especially preparing me for grad school.
What was the most rewarding experience you had at CSB/SJU (Biology-related or otherwise)?
All of my research opportunities certainly rank highly, but I think my study abroad trip with Steve and Linda Saupe (still biology related, sort of) to Athens and Rome was the most rewarding, enriching experience I've had during my time at CSB/SJU. No other experience provided so many opportunities to expand the breadth of my experience in the world. I firmly believe traveling and experiencing other cultures does more to promote growth as a person than nearly anything else, especially when there is an educational facet to it. Regardless of major or career plans, I think studying abroad is a completely worthwhile, meaningful experience.
Do you have any advice for students who are not sure what they want to do after graduation?
Go to grad school and put off the real world for a few more years! Only joking of course, that's perhaps the worst reason to attend grad school... In reality, I would say you should pursue whatever area of study truly sparks something in you, whatever classes you can't get enough of, whatever knowledge just gets you pumped. I get weirdly amped about all things related to ecology, so I knew that was something I wanted to pursue in the future. I think it's better to follow excitement and see where it takes you than to have a concrete post-graduation goal that you aren't even sure you'll enjoy. Additionally, talk to older students and alumni if you can, especially those whose careers you find interesting. It can be surprising how winding the path to a job can be, and it's worth understanding the multitude of paths to a successful and rewarding career. Keep in mind that all of this advice comes from a senior heading to grad school, with only a week of college left; if I didn't have a plan at this point, my advice might be a little more panicked!