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Student Views

Amy Rivera Lindsey Hoover Nicolas Cortes-Penfield Lalita Calabria Candace Peyton Kiersten Andrews Elizabeth Diltz Priscilla Fite

Lalita Calabria Lalita Calabria
Grad Student, Plant Biology
Hometown: North of Philadelphia, PA

What created your interest in Biology?

I was always curious about the natural world, but it wasn't until I attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA that I became really inspired to study plants. I enrolled in a course called "Natural Histories: Botany, Biography and Community" my freshman year. It was an interdisciplinary program that allowed students to explore these topics in the context of the place we lived; the Pacific Northwest. We learned about botany and ecology of native ecosystems through field trips, lectures, labs and internships at local gardens or businesses. We spent time working with Native American tribes and visiting the many logging towns in Washington state to learn about the economy and livelihood of local communities in the PNW. We also visited logging mills as well as old growth forests, to understand how our communities were shaped by the ecosystems that surround them.

For the first time in my life, I was able to really apply knowledge I learned in school to something that directly related to my life and introduced me to the idea of place-based education. It was with this framework that I continued to study plant biology and ecology, which eventually became my double major.


What's your research focus as a grad student?

I study the chemistry of a small genus in the Sunflower family, Silphium L. (Asteraceae).


What do you enjoy most about your studies or research?

I love that each day is different. Some days I do lab work, some days I teach. Some days I write and some days I do all three. I also really enjoy being in an intellectually stimulating environment where I have access to brilliant professors, students, and interesting seminars and informal discussion groups all the time. And of course, I love thinking about plants all day long.


Why did you choose UT's School of Biological Sciences?

I chose UT-Austin because I wanted to be part of a botany department that included a well-established phytochemistry program. When I was looking into grad school, many of my mentors suggested I work with Dr Tom Mabry, my current advisor. It was one the best decisions I ever made.


What's your favorite research tool?

The best online research tool for botany and ecology is the Web of Science database and for chemistry, Scifinder Scholar is the best.


What are your career goals?

I would like to be a professor at a small liberal arts college, similar to the one I attended (The Evergreen State College). I want to work at an institution where teaching is valued as highly as research and where undergraduates have the opportunity to be involved with research. Every student has a different learning style and I want to help students to discover their talents and passions inside and outside of the classroom. I had the opportunity to do research and work in the lab and in the field as an undergraduate and I want to provide the same opportunities for my students. I love teaching biology and my career goal is to continue educating and inspiring young people to understand biology and to apply this knowledge to making a positive impact on the world. I believe by inspiring undergraduates, we can create successful graduate students and future educators.


Are there any awards or special events related to your work that you'd like to share?

Well, I guess I'm proud to have received the Bold Teaching Award last year. Also, I had a great experience this semester serving as a graduate student mentor for two undergraduates who are interested in going on to graduate school. I was able to take them to seminars and dissertation defenses, they worked in my lab and got to experience what it's like to be a graduate student. In addition to my responsibilities as a Teaching Assistant, I also supervise a dozen or so undergraduates who work in my lab. It's been great preparation for my future career goal to become a professor. It's also been great to meet some of the brightest and best UT undergraduates. I learn from them everyday.


What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to cook and have dinner parties with my family and friends. I also try to exercise and get outside whenever I can. I love reading fiction, but it's rare that I actually have the time to do that!


What fun activity would you recommend to an incoming UT student?

Check out the amazing music seen we have in Austin. There is so much to choose from. Also, there are great natural areas in and around Austin, fall and spring are great times to be outdoors here.



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