Monday, December 21, 2015

Fernald Club Alum Profile: Anna Soper

The blog returns with another profile of a Fernald club alum
This month we catch up with Anna Soper, former Fernald Club president and outreach director.

Welcome! Please tell us a bit about your background, from pre-Fernald days through the present.
1.       What have you been doing since leaving the Fernald Club?
Since leaving the Fernald club, I took a post-doc position at UC-Riverside to work on Tamarixia radiata a biological control agent of the Asian Citrus psyllid. Through that position, I met my current boss Valerie Mellano. She and I wrote a grant together to fund my current position as research director for the plant sciences department at Cal Poly Pomona. I also lecture as needed and mentor graduate students.
    When did you develop an interest in insects? 
I developed an interest in insects late in life. It was my junior year of college and I started working in an entomology lab at the University of Wisconsin Madison.  We worked on conservation biological control in potato fields. I liked the work and Claudio Gratton (the PI of the lab in which I was working) helped me out in applying to graduate school. 

3.  What are the most critical skills for the work you are doing now? How do you make it work given your strengths and weaknesses? 

The most critical skills for the work that I do requires that you are always on your toes. The students ask a lot of questions and I need to be thinking critically all the time.
Creativity is by far my biggest weakness when it comes to my job.  When you are designing experiments, you need a lot of creativity. I spend a lot of time in the literature adapting ideas from other people’s work. My students also have a lot of good ideas too so that helps.    

How about any key personality traits?
 I get along well with others and especially my students. I think that a lot of my students find it really easy to relate to me and I hope that I am able to inspire them to pursue a career in entomology!

 Do you have any long-term plans? Any entomology in them?
My long-term plans are to move into a faculty position (hopefully at Cal Poly Pomona!). I do plan on continuing my research program in entomology.  My research focus is on invasive species in California agriculture.

 Anything else on your mind that you'd like to share with our hypothetical readers?

If I could tell my graduate student self any advice it would be to network as much as possible while you are still in graduate school. I recommend developing long term relationships with your graduate student colleagues as these are the people that you will be relying upon in your future endeavors!  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A miniseries featuring interviews with former Club members about their jobs

By Club Blog Steward Evan Palmer-Young

Our first interviewee is Melissa Ha. Melissa was Club co-President and got her MS under Lynn Adler in the UMass Organismic & Evolutionary Biology (OEB) program before departing for her current position teaching at Mojave Community College.

Welcome to the Blog, Melissa! Let's get started with some questions:

Please tell us a bit about your background, from pre-Fernald days through the present.
I attended two community colleges before transferring to California State University, Chico and earning a B.S. in Biological Sciences. I went on to earn an M.S. degrees at the same institution before earning an M.S. degree in Organismic and Evolutionary biology at UMass Amherst. 

What have you been doing since leaving the Fernald Club?
I went on to teach general biology and microbiology at Mohave Community College in Kingman, Arizona. 

When did you develop an interest in insects?
I first developed an interest in insects while taking a general entomology class at California State University, Chico. We had a weekend camping field trip to collect desert insects and were required to prepare an insect collection as our final project. I then volunteered to curate the insect collection for the next two years during which I focused on spreading and identifying butterflies and moths, visiting elementary schools with my collection, and preparing displays for local museums. I was thrilled to join the Fernald club when I began graduate school and UMass Amherst, and enjoyed the graduate-level entomology classes offered by the university. Collecting and identifying pollinators has been an important part of my research on indirect interactions between plants that are mediated by pollinators. 

What sorts of tasks and problems are you currently tackling (or being tackled by), and what are your key motivators?
I am always thinking of new ways to cultivate an interest in biology. At Mohave Community College (MCC), many students are interested in vocational allied health degrees such as nursing, but few are interested in majoring in sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics. By representing the Science Department at recruitment events, I hope to bring students with a passion for science to MCC. Additionally, faculty members including myself are in the process of getting greenhouses and a salt water aquarium installed on campus, which will facilitate more engaging labs and perhaps spark and interest in pursuing science.

My key motivators are the students. When I see how hard they work to balance work, school, and family, I am compelled to provide every resource possible to help them succeed in my classes and every opportunity to discover the career that is right for them. 

What are the most critical skills for the work you are doing now? How do you make it work given your strengths and weaknesses?
Biology faculty at community colleges must have a broad knowledge of the field. Even though I specialized in plant-insect evolution and ecology, I am expected to understand topics such as cellular respiration, bacterial identification, and the function of the immune system well enough to teach them. I rely on my ability to learn independently to review the necessary topics. As a microbiology instructor, I learned many things for the first time while in preparation to teach them. While planning ahead and putting in the study time have served me well, I had to accept that I do not always know the answers to my students questions. It is okay to tell students that you don't know the answer as an instructor, and they gain respect for you if you look up their questions and discuss them during the next class. 

It is also crucial to find the balance between being approachable to students yet maintaining authority. Especially for a young female faculty member, it is important to dress professionally to distinguish myself from the students. It is hard to know that returning an assignment with a failing grade might ruin a student's day or that refusing to let students make up late work without a compelling reason might mean that they fail the class. I remind myself these are forms of tough love and that it is more important to provide knowledge, career skills, and life lessons than be liked by all students all of the time. 

How about any key personality traits?
The most critical traits are organization, patience, flexibility, and persistence. A genuine care for these students can elicit these last three traits. 

Do you have any long-term plans? Any entomology in them?
I feel that my current position instructing community college suits me, and I hope to continue with this profession. Because curriculum and technology are always changing and there is always room to refine teaching skills, I believe this profession will be mentally stimulating for a long time. While entomology will not be a large part of my career, I do enjoy incorporating it into general biology lectures and labs. 

Thanks  so much for your time, Melissa! Good luck in the upcoming semester!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sound Bites: Amherst Regional Middle School

Friday, 12 June 2015
Fernald Club's Evan Palmer-Young gave a talk about bees, flowers, and pollination to the 8th grade students at Amherst Middle School Here are the slides. Thanks to Amy and Arianne for organizing the Sound Bites talk series to let graduate students out of the lab.
Here's the audio recording from the talk. The slides are paste below:

Saturday, June 6, 2015



The annual Greenfield Bee Festival was held at the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield. UMass's Jarrod Fowler and Fernald Club's deputy blogger Evan Palmer-Young gave talks.
Here's Evan's talk, bookended by 2 bee ecology limericks.

With our bee populations at risk
Humble farmers must ask as they disc
How to keep bees alive
'til the spring rains arrive
Will the scientists say but "tisk-tisk"?

From a plant to a bee nectar's sweet
But it's only a summertime treat
All the rest of the year
Plants are nibbled by deer
And must choose to defend or be meat
Posted by Evan Palmer-Young on 6/6/2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Wednesday 15 April 2015

Today we installed an informational sign for the Fernald Club's sign in the UMass Permaculture Garden outside of Franklin Dining Hall. We hope the hotels will attract native pollinators and the signs will attract interested students, staff, scientists, and the public.

Thanks to the clubmembers and staff who helped with design & installation, and to President Laura for handling the behind-the-scenes logistics.

Here are some photos.