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Student Spotlight – Dowen Jocson

Once a month we sit down with an Entomology graduate student to get to know more about them, how they became interested in Entomology, and what their research is about. This month, we sat down with Dowen Jocson!

Q1: Masters or Ph.D, and how far into your program are you? 
A: I am in my 5th year of my PhD.  

Q2: What is your research project? 
A: My project revolves around the pest management of pear psylla. Like most true bugs (Hemipterans) and about 90% of insects, psylla communicate through substrate-borne vibrations.  These vibrations travel through plants’ stems and other substrates, like leaf litter, as bending waves and are received by other insects through mechanoreceptors on their body.  So, what I’m aiming to do is first describe and record how these vibrations sound by using special equipment that picks up the vibrations and translates them into sound waves I can hear. Then figure out if we can use their communication system to disrupt mating behaviors so that they don’t mate and reproduce, reducing populations of the next generation. Finally, I want to figure out a way we could implement this disruption in an orchard. 

Q3: How did you become interested in entomology?
A: By accident. I majored in plant science in undergrad but worked in a lab doing a bee-violet pollination project. I wanted to do more work in pollination systems, so I applied to a different lab for my master’s doing an insect-plant interaction project. What I ended up with were accidental treehopper babies hatching from plants we ordered from a nursery.  My PI worked with these treehoppers before, so she threw me in there to work on them.  The project developed into how temperature can affect treehopper vibrational signals for mating. That is when I knew I wanted to work more on the insect side of things than the plant side of things. Also, looking back, I played with a lot of arthropods when I was a kid.  I caught spiders and would have spider tournaments with my friends. I also had beetles attached to floss leash flying over my head.  I guess I was training to be in an entomologist since I was young. 

Q4: Why would you recommend entomology as a career?
A: If you love bugs this is obviously the right path for you.  You must love what you do to call it a career, otherwise, it’s just a job.  Entomology has so many more applications than people think.  It’s not all agricultural and pollination (although equally important).  It’s answering evolutionary and ecological questions while getting to work with the most interesting living organisms in the world.  It’s contributing to the scientific knowledge database that can lead to technological innovations.  I didn’t know that this is where I would end up, but I’m happy I did. 

Q5: What are your future career plans after graduation? 
A: This has changed over the course of my PhD.  Somewhat similar, I do still want to work with developing sustainable pest management using vibrational communication or other behavior-based management. I would like to work for the USDA as a Research Entomologist, or for industry as a Field Scientist, or something to do with science policy and science communication. 

Q6: What is your favorite thing about your Master’s/PhD journey? 
A: I love networking and meeting people who work on cool and important stuff. I also love doing outreach with kids and doing extension with growers. I’ve learned that I like to communicate science with non-scientists.  

Q7: Something you’re proud of that you made, found, received during your time here at WSU. 
A: I am pretty excited about being an Entomological Society of America (ESA) Science Policy Fellow. I am also really grateful to be a USDA NIFA Fellow because it’s allowed me to travel to many conferences to meet people and present my research.  

Q8: What is your favorite insect and why? 
A: I have a soft spot for treehoppers because they’re so diverse and interesting looking. Also, they make cool sounds (vibrations). (Link to treehopper song I recorded)