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A Deeper Look Inside WSU Student’s Undergraduate Research Experience

By: Hailey Meyer

Madison Armstrong has spent much of her time experiencing the world through research and scientific exploration. To say that she has been involved in an abundance of research experiences, would be a massive understatement.

Armstrong is a senior in the WSU Honor’s College, studying Evolutionary Biology and Ecology, with a minor in Genetics and Cell Biology.

Armstrong started her research experience in Ecuador at age 17, working for “Operation Wallacea,” a conservation company that is based out of the United Kingdom. She met scientists from all over the world that had the same interests and questions that she had. This is where her curiosity and concern for biology started.

“I realized that biology could be more than just a favorite class, a job or an interesting topic,” she explained, “it is critical for the success of the planet,” Armstrong said.

When she first came to WSU in 2015, she continued to fuel her curiosity by joining Dr. Dybdahl’s lab that focused on clonal population spread. Armstrong began identifying dispersals of clonal lineages of the aquatic New Zealand mud snail. By identifying favorable environmental conditions of clonal types, she found that human dispersal played a large role in the spread of this invasive species. In just her first year here at WSU, Armstrong presented at the 2016 WSU Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA).

Armstrong has also conducted research that focused on phenotypic plasticity of the shell shape in the New Zealand mud snail. She observed that the variation in shell shape occurred across populations of the same clonal type, US1, even though no genetic variation was present.

After about a year of research, Armstrong collected data that supported her hypothesis that plasticity played a role in shell shape, which affected snail movement in a self-made flow system. She was awarded 2nd place for her research poster at SURCA in 2017, and attended the National Society for the Study of Evolution Conference in Portland, OR to present her research poster. She then presented at SURCA the following year, and this time was awarded 1st place. Armstrong was also recognized for an exceptional research poster at a local Evolutionary Biology Conference of the Pacific Northwest region.

This past summer, Armstrong attended an intensive week-long computational Bioinformatics course hosted by Physalia in Berlin. She was able to work hands-on with datasets provided from scientists from around the world, and represented the U.S. as the only American in the course.

“My research experiences at WSU have enabled me to gain the necessary skills for graduate school and future research opportunities,” Armstrong says. “I constantly strive to inspire others to pursue their interests, which has led to involvement in a large variety of programs.”

Pictured: Madison Armstrong

Armstrong thanks SBS and CAS for providing her with funding to conduct research projects for the past four years, and is extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to pursue her own research questions as an undergraduate student.

WSU Offers Vet-Med Students an Accelerated Honors Program

By: Hailey Meyer

Emily Austin, WSU Zoology Sophomore

Students who are dedicated to a profession in veterinary medicine can gain early admission to the College of Veterinary Medicine DVM professional program and become a veterinarian in just seven years.

The College of Veterinary Medicine and the Honors College have partnered up to provide an abundance of exceptional opportunities for students over the years. This includes an accelerated seven-year veterinary program through the Honors College.

Emily Austin, a WSU sophomore and zoology major, who was admitted to the veterinary program, says that the seven-year Honors Veterinary Medicine program was one of the main factors that drew her to WSU.

“It was exciting to think that I could start vet school a year early because I felt I would be ready before four years of undergrad,” Austin says, “and even if I had not gotten in, the experience of going through the application process early in my undergrad career was a great opportunity,” she explained.

Students who are interested in this program must apply to WSU and the Honors College as a high school senior. Once admitted, students can choose from undergraduate majors including; Animal Sciences, Microbiology, Neuroscience, Wildlife Ecology, or Zoology.

Claire Stein, WSU Zoology Sophomore

Every summer, the Honors College students who have completed their first year are invited to apply for early admission to the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine DVM professional program.

Claire Stein, who is also a WSU zoology major admitted to the program, says that the WSU School of Biological Sciences excelled in preparing students for veterinary school.

“The faculty in the School of Biological Sciences really care about individual students and their success,” Stein says. “It is really nice to be able to have so many faculty members on your side, rooting for you. It’s been a great experience and the professors have all been incredible,” she explained.

Austin tells students who are interested in becoming a veterinarian and want to be admitted into this program to, “go outside of your comfort zone to get involved in the veterinary world, it’s so critical to get experience and exposure as early as possible.” She also says, “be involved in something other than school and vet med, stay focused on your career goals but also find things you’re passionate about.”

For students who want more information about the application process, visit the WSU Honors Veterinary Medicine program website.

WSU Graduate Student Presents to Nobel Prize Winner

By: Hailey Meyer

Going to conferences to present your research is a part of graduate training at Washington State University. Although, according to Marietta Easterling, a graduate student in the School of Biological Sciences, nothing prepared her for what to say when a Nobel Prize winning scientist asked her about her research during the International Xenopus Conference.

Pictured: Marietta Easterling & Sir John Gurdon

Easterling attended the conference to present her doctoral dissertation research, that seeks to understand how nutrition regulates early development. She looks at a hormone called leptin, which regulates food intake and energy balance to some extent in all vertebrates. Leptin has been studied mostly in juvenile and adult animals, but she’s more interested in the earlier stages of development when structures are initially formed. By using the Xenopus frog as a model organism, she found that leptin plays an important role in the development of limbs and their ability to regenerate after injury, by increasing the rate and quality.

The International Xenopus Conference is the premier forum for researchers who are using this type of model for their study. This meeting provides an abundance of opportunities for interaction, with lectures by students, professors, postdocs, poster sessions, and career development programs.

Easterling was presenting her research on leptin and development at a poster session at the conference, and to her surprise, ended up presenting her research to Sir John Gurdon. Gurdon is a developmental biologist who is best known for his research in nuclear transplantation and cloning, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2012.

“I was actually walking around looking at someone else’s poster, when my friend told me that John Gurdon was checking out my poster, so I sprinted back over and introduced myself and we talked about my research,” Easterling explained.

At other conferences she’s attended, she described that they were much larger and more formal. At the Xenopus conference though, she said, “everyone at the conference is so excited about your research, and really wants to help you out in any way that they can. It’s like a huge family.” And after talking with Sir Gurdon, Easterling felt confirmation for her research and the work she has done.

Easterling is working to submit her research for publication and is looking forward to graduating this year. She recommends to other students to “always work hard, when you go to a conference don’t be shy about talking with people, and presenting your research, you never know who you may end up talking to.”