Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Student Feature Friday with Dowen Jocson

On the last Friday of each 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 role is in the department. This month, we sat down with Dowen Jocson to get to know her a little bit better!

Dowen working in the WSU Greenhouse
Dowen working in the WSU Greenhouse

Q: Masters or Ph.D., and how far into your program are you?
A: I’m in my first year of Ph.D.

Q: What is your research project? 
A: My project revolves around the pest management of pear psyllids. Like most true bugs (Hemipterans) and about 90% of insects, psyllids 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 to first describe and record how these vibrations sound like by using special equipment that pick up the vibrations and translate 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.

Q: How did you become an entomologist?
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 (which I thought was just a fancy word for pollination). 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 and how temperature can affect their 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 (lol).

Dowen listening for insect vibrations on the plant
Dowen listening for insect vibrations

Q: 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 what 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 this is where I would end up, but I’m pretty happy I did.

Q: What are your future career plans after graduation?
A: Who knows? JK. I would like to continue working on vibrational communication systems and using it as a pest management strategy. Although, down the road, I dream to be an insect museum curator. I want to incorporate insect sounds in museums and insectariums.

Q: What is your favorite insect?
A: I have a soft spot for treehoppers because they’re so diverse and interesting looking. Also, they make really cool sounds (vibrations). I’m attaching a sound file from my thesis.