“Life takes unexpected turns. You have to go with the flow and take opportunities when you get them. Things don’t always follow a standard trajectory, but that makes life more interesting,” said Sian Ritchie.
Sian Ritchie, a Washington State University Clinical Assistant Professor, grew up in the U.K. wanting to teach elementary students.
“It was never my plan, and I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to be a professor,” Ritchie explained.
She received both her Bachelor’s Degree and PH.D. at the University of Reading in the U.K. She also obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Biochemistry, and a Master’s Degree in Teaching at Washington State University.
“After my Ph.D. I did research and I really enjoyed that. I also did more here at WSU as well,” Ritchie said.
She worked as a substitute teacher and also at the local science museum. Ritchie was later offered a part-time job teaching labs at WSU. She eventually turned into a full-time professor.
Ritchie now advises students who are pursuing Biology, Zoology, and General Studies-Basic Medical Sciences degrees. She is also fascinated with using technology to improve and help undergraduate students.
Ritchie also runs the exit-surveys for graduate students in her departments and wants to emphasize for incoming students to reach out and talk to professors and other students.
“It’s kind of intimidating to a lot of students but it’s so important to get out there and get involved, students can learn a lot,” Ritchie said.
David Evans grew up locally in Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington and Oregon. He completed his undergrad and master’s degree in biology at Western Washington University, and also received his Ph.D. in Botany at Washington State University.
Evans is a professor and the Associate Director for undergraduate studies here at WSU. Evans also directs the Stable Isotope Core Laboratory, and has been working at WSU for 16 years now. Before teaching at WSU, Evans was a professor at the University of Arkansas for 9 years.
He knew that he wanted to be a professor while he was completing his Ph.D., “I really enjoyed the research, I had a great professor that really got me into plants,” Evans said.
Evans research is mainly focused on carbon, nitrogen and water dynamics in terrestrial ecosystems. He has done an abundance of work as a desert ecologist, with global change at the center of his attention. His two main projects currently concentrate on atmospheric deposition in the environment.
“We’ve done this all across the Western U.S., and right now I have a graduate student working in the North Cascades,” he explained, “and the other student is working in agricultural systems on more efficient use of nitrogen, and we’re doing that locally.”
Evans couldn’t express enough for undergraduate students to reach out to their professors, and graduate students as well.
“There are so many opportunities here to take advantage of, just get involved as much as you can,” Evans said, “I wouldn’t trade my undergrad for anything, half the fun is finding things out.”
“I wish I knew earlier on that one’s life can really take any shape, and that this is up to each and every person to figure out,” says Dr. Jeremiah Busch.
Dr. Jeremiah Busch is an associate professor for the Washington State University School of Biological Sciences, who’s main focus is on plant evolutionary genetics.
Busch is particularly interested in traits that have an outsized impact on evolution, and has a long-standing interest in the degree to which evolution closes doors for future evolutionary responses. A lot of his work is based on the evolution of genes that cause self-fertilization, and is currently working on the evolution of polypoids.
Busch’s interest in plant genetics started when he really got involved with his undergraduate research at Indiana University. He had two mentors that stuck out to him, Dr. Ellen Simms and Dr. Joy Bergelson.
“They were really patient with me and helped me make small progress on small questions,” Busch says, “I think the social fabric of the laboratory environment, where everyone is on the same team asking questions, really struck me as a wonderful way to experience the world.”
Busch also mentioned that he was blown away by the fact that people were so curious about the world and that they spent their lives trying to understand it. He was fascinated the most with statistic classes because that is where he was most out of his element.
“I have always been intrigued by biological diversity, and being introduced to statistical methods seemed to unlock a few doors for me,” said Busch, “I’m not saying it was easy, though!”
Busch was born in Alaska, but has lived in Montana, Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arkansas. He completed his undergrad at the University of Chicago, and received his Ph. D. in 2005 at Indiana University.
Currently being at WSU, Busch would recommend to all students to figure out what they are interested in, and to get involved in that.
“Enmesh yourself in a healthy social fabric too – this helps to strike a proper balance between the rigors of the classroom and the rest of your life, which should be equally rewarding,” Busch mentioned.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”