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The School of Biological Sciences SBS Stories

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.”

Plagiarism Is A Serious Mistake

As a new semester begins, it bears reminding that all students need to be aware of the serious consequences of plagiarism:

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the inclusion of any material, into any class assignment, that is not your own without adequate reference to its author. Other than the fraudulent manufacture of data, it is the most serious professional breach of ethics that a scientist can commit.

Consistent with the broad authority the university gives faculty in the management of the classroom [], SBS views plagiarism in any student assignment as cheating and a serious breach of academic integrity. Students in all our courses (100-700 level) must clearly and unequivocally understand the meaning of this term because the penalties for plagiarism in the sciences can be career ending.

A common dictionary definition of plagiarism is

“to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own :  use (another’s production) without crediting the source”

( (Accessed 28 October 2013).

As with many terms, plagiarism may have alternative meanings and interpretations in other fields. However, SBS is responsible only for training students under its instruction and training to understand the meaning of plagiarism in the Life Sciences as described herein.

This multi-component view is supported under WAC 504-26-010 definitions.

“(i) Plagiarism. Presenting the information, ideas, or phrasing of another person as the student’s own work without proper acknowledgment of the source. This includes submitting a commercially prepared paper or research project or submitting for academic credit any work done by someone else. The term “plagiarism” includes, but is not limited to, the use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment.”

In accordance with universal practice in the Life Sciences, SBS interprets this definition of plagiarism to include several forms, each of which is explained below.

First, this definition includes incorporation of another author ’s verbatim phrase(s) and sentence(s) into text purportedly written by the plagiarist without quotation marks and without citation of the true author.

Second, the definition also includes incorporation of another author’s verbatim phrase(s) and sentence(s) without quotation marks even if the true author is cited, e.g. at the end of a paragraph within which is the plagiarized text.

Third, the definition includes superficial paraphrasing, i.e., the substitution of a few words or modification/re-arranging/re-writing of another author’s phrases, such that the text is still largely verbatim.  Note plagiarism in this form includes copying the flow of logic or ideas in the text such that it follows the order in the original work.  This practice is not permitted with or without citing the true author(s) because the original text was altered to give the impression that the plagiarist is the author of the novel idea/hypothesis/proposal (“to steal the idea as one’s own”…).

Fourth, this definition includes use of the ideas and writings of classmates and students from prior semesters as described in points one through three above.

Access to papers and other texts on the internet has opened new opportunities for those who would plagiarize, and the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) has in the past year encountered such cases in its courses.  Thus, SBS now has access to software that can detect text plagiarized from the internet, and the faculty and the TAs have been instructed to employ these tools.

In the School of Biological Sciences, a confirmed case of plagiarism can result in a final course grade of F being immediately assigned and can result in the offense being immediately forwarded to the Office of Student Conduct, which will likely take further more serious action.

If you have any doubt at all about what constitutes plagiarism, you need to discuss immediately this matter with your instructor or T.A.

In short, make sure all elements of your paper, including text and figures, are your own work.

Registration is open: Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students

Registration for the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Indianapolis, Indiana, November 14-17 is now open.  This has been a great meeting for WSU undergraduate students involved in any type of biomedical research. Students are encouraged to submit abstracts and apply for travel awards.  A couple of important things:

  1. Student travel awards are found on the blue “apply for a judge travel award” link on the ABRCMS web site .  (I am told this will soon change to a more obvious link).  All qualified students should apply for a travel award.
  2. All undergraduate students, not just students from underrepresented groups, are welcome at the meeting and will benefit from the STEM presentations, professional development opportunities, and the graduate school and summer programs fair with more than 300 programs recruiting students.  Graduate students are also welcome.

PAID Summer Research Opportunities for Undergraduate

Looking to get some research experience this summer? The following SBS faculty members are looking for undergraduates to work in their labs. Email them directly to apply!

At WSU Pullman:

Dr. Wes Dowd (

           Project: Multiple stressors of tidepool copepods

Dr. Erica Crespi and Jesse Brunner ( or

           Project: Stress and disease ecology in the wood frog – ranavirus system

Dr. Ben Harlow (

           Project: Gaining technical lab experience in the WSU Stable Isotope Core Facility

Dr. Mechthild Tegeder (

            Project: Molecular biology of plant nutrient dynamics

At WSU Vancouver:

Dr. Jonah Piovia-Scott (

            Project: Amphibian conservation in the Cascades and Sierras

SBS Graduate Students Take Top Honors

Pictured: Erika Serrano