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Students ask me about career choices and how best to attain their dream job. I tell them my experiences, both personal and professional, indicate that motivation and interest are key. Ask yourself this question: what do you truly enjoy doing? For example, is it an outdoors activity (useful for ecotech, environmental work), is it talking and being with people (needed for teaching, biotech reps, medicine), is it doing some type of fine handcraft (useful for surgeon assistants, cell biologists), is it working with animals or plants (labtech, vet techs, agriculture)? Binge watching Netflix probably is not going to get you far in terms of job prospects even though it may be a favorite pastime. Motivation plays a major role: This must last long-term, in other words lots of things motivate us at first, but can quickly get old, mundane and we lose interest. Will your chosen profession/career give you motivation to wake up in the morning and get at it?

Another key to this puzzle is your experiences. At the bachelor degree level, starting jobs often eventually lead to other doors opening, in other words the first job after the BS may not be “it”, your dream job. That starting job may be because you happened to take an extra chemistry, biology lab or math course not directly needed for the major. It may be because of a summer job at a lab testing service, or volunteering at a research lab. So not only are your goal-directed courses important, other tangential experiences will likely also determine your success. Every experience may be important to an employer and you may not know what single factor got you the job. It is the aggregate and diversity of experience that win the day. Well, OK, maybe even binge watching would be important to some employers! Best of luck in your search.

Ms. Marie Fong and Mr. Jake Myers walk onto the field during Homecoming 2018, UofM Football vs UConn, October 6, 2018.
Photo Credit: Trey Clark. Used with permission of the University of Memphis Media Relations Office.

Jake Myers, a senior majoring in Biology and Spanish from Columbia, TN, was one of five finalists for Mr. U of M.  The Mr. and Ms. U of M awards acknowledge past service to the university as well as present a forward-looking agenda through implementation of the winner’s community action plan.  Jake is already an active member of several student groups including: the Vice President of Administration for the Student Ambassador Board, a Tiger Elite Ambassador, member-at-large and campus safety co-chair within the Student Government Association, and the Secretary for the Student Members of the American Chemical Association.  He was nominated for the honor of Mr. U of M based on his work on the Student Ambassador Board, then completed an application that included three essays and an interview about his community action plan, finally the student body voted for the five candidates.  Jake said he was honored by the nomination and opportunity to give back to the University of Memphis community that he loves.

Beyond his numerous service commitments on campus, Jake also volunteers in the Bowers Lab where he has gained experience extracting DNA from bird blood and genotyping individuals to identify males and females.  Following graduation in May 2019, Jake plans to go to medical school and one day hopes to work as a bilingual pediatrician.  Jake’s favorite Biology class at the University of Memphis was Stem Cells with Dr. Amy Abell; he said, “the field is so new and innovative and I can see how it relates to my career interests.”  He also said that Dr. Barbara Taller’s Biology I was a pivotal course for him and that he was grateful for how she pushed students to reach their full potential.

Congratulations to Jake on the honor of representing the university as a Mr. U of M finalist!

Dr. Amy Abell is promoted to Associate Professor with Tenure

As of September 1st, the Department of Biological Sciences has a new Associate Professor!  Dr. Amy Abell was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure.  Dr. Abell began her research career as graduate student studying the structure and function of G protein coupled receptors that are essential for reproduction. During her post-doctoral training, she created a mouse model with defects related to perturbations in epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT), a biological process controlling the conversion of stationary epithelial stem cells to motile mesenchymal cells. Importantly, EMT is essential for normal development, but it is reactivated in several pathologies including organ fibrosis and cancer metastasis.  Dr. Abell teaches undergraduate courses on the Biology of Stem Cells, and Molecular Biology of the Gene as well as a graduate course entitled Stem Cells: Culture/Application. Dr. Abell's lab uses stem cells that she has isolated from mice with EMT-related defects to define the signaling/gene expression networks regulating EMT. One goal of her research is to identify novel master regulators of EMT and the reverse process MET. This information will be used in designing new strategies for regenerative medicine and the treatment of EMT related pathologies. Projects in the lab use molecular, cellular and embryological tools to identify regulators of EMT.  Read more about Dr. Abell's lab

Dr. Duane McKenna receives The William Hill Professorship in Biology

At the Fall College of Arts and Sciences Faculty meeting, Dr. Duane McKenna was presented with The William Hill Professorship in Biology for his consistent and extraordinarily high level performance in terms of research and external funding, teaching, and service to his department and the university. This endowed professorship will be indefinitely renewable every five years, based upon his continued excellence in research, teaching, and service. Dr. McKenna’s research interests include the phylogeny and evolution of insects, the genomic basis of plant-feeding in beetles, and interactions between beetles and plants on ecological and evolutionary time scales. Dr. McKenna, who joined the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Memphis in 2010, received his a BS in Biology and Chemistry from Western Michigan University, an MS in Entomology from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) and his PhD in Organismal and Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University.  Dr. McKenna teaches a number of course including Evolution, Entomology, and new course this year - Biodiversity.

The William Hill Professorship in Biology is named for the late William D. (“Billy”) Hill and was established using a gift to the college from the Hill-Clayton Trust. Mr. Hill lived in Memphis for most of his life and attended Memphis Public Schools, worked for Buckeye Cellulose Corp, and was a sergeant in the Army Air Force during WWII. Congratulations Dr. McKenna! Read more about Dr. McKenna's work







Grad Students attend the Animal Behavior Society Meeting in Wisconsin

Members of the Ferkin and Bowers lab went to the Animal Behavior Society Conference in Wisconsin in August! New friends were made, old friends were visited, and some research was showcased!

Pictured (left to right): Ryan Scauzillo, Karl Rohrer, Lyndsey Pierson, Kelsey Clark, Jonathan Jenkins, and Sarah Gerris.




Graduate Student  Attends Ridge to Reef Climate and Life Summer Institute in August
by Malle Carrasco-Harris

I was selected to attend the Ridge to Reef Climate and Life Summer Institute hosted at the University of California Irvine. Irvine, located in Orange County, was the perfect location for this institute because it experiences the Mediterranean climate, typified by long, dry summers and mild, wet winters. This area is a unique ecosystem with many rare or endangered plants and animals, but also sits in the heart of Southern California urban development and sprawl.

The goals of the R2R CAL were to provide training in skills and concepts related to climate change and biological diversity in human-dominated and impacted systems. Twenty-five students from the US and Mexico represented various departments, including ecology and evolutionary biology, engineering, and earth sciences. Every  day, various professors provided introductions to their fields, and then we engaged in group activities that usually lead to an outcome we presented to our peers.

Topics included:

  • Management challenges and analysis tools (Jutta Burger and Efi Foufoula-Georgiou)
  • Beyond the urban wildland interface (Darrel Jenerette)
  • Precipitation variability (Osvaldo Sala) & a visit to the Loma Ridge research site
  • Urban ecology and management (Diane Pataki)
  • Climate variability (Kelly Caylor) & data collection at Corona del Mar state beach
  • Marine intertidal ecosystems and communities (Cascade Sorte)
  • Environmental flows and urban water management (Eric Stein)

R2R was a neat opportunity to work with students from different backgrounds. I quickly learned that my peers had expertise in different fields, which meant they may not approach problem solving the way I do and frequently contributed alternative ideas. Group activities were often a good challenge for growing in communication skills and the ability to facilitate different perspectives. A big takeaway lesson from R2R was that many diverse voices are required around the table to help find solutions in science.





First time offering of BIOL4/6093   Lichen Biology

This summer, the department offered a course on lichen biology during the second summer session.  Lichens are a symbiotic organism comprised of an algae (photobiont) and a fungus and commonly grow on trees, rocks and the soil.  Lichens are also indicators of environmental health; areas which have a greater amount of air pollution have a greater number of pollution-tolerant lichen species.  Pollution- sensitive lichens are found in areas that are less impacted by automobiles and other sources of pollution. Taught by Lynda Miller (College of the Ozarks), the students collected from the Edward J. Meeman Biological Station (Millington, TN), Shelby Farms Park (Memphis, TN), Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge (Turrell, AR 72384), and Ghost River State Natural Area (Moscow, TN).    Over the course of the two week course, 31 lichen species were identified! When asked if the course had been a good experience, one student replied "We were talking about that last night at the dorm – we think every student should have a course like this during their undergraduate years.” Visit the Meeman website and check out the lichens found at Meeman
Pictured:  On the left, the Lichen Biology class with instructor Lynda Miller (far left).  In the middle (top) a sample from the collection and in the middle (bottom), a ) student with his lichen collection. On the right, students collecting at the Ghost River section of the Wolf River. 



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