Emily Gagne is following a somewhat atypical degree track by splitting her thesis into two fields: evolutionary biology and biology education research. More unusual still is that her twin focuses have roots in the same country halfway across the world. Although she was unable to travel to Madagascar due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her evolutionary biology research — conducted with Elise Lauterbur — centers on understanding gene flow and population demography patterns in lemurs there, while the other half of her thesis focuses on teaming up with members of Perry Lab, Diego Hernandez, and their Malagasy collaborators to lead virtual workshops in bioinformatics and genetics for adults nearby.
While some people may find a dual-subject thesis daunting, Emily finds both aspects equally rewarding, and she encourages anyone to get involved in outreach related to their field.
“I would encourage as many scientists as possible to engage in either outreach or education research,” she said. “It's important to empower learners and give them the tools they need to become independent scientists. Science should be fun AND accessible.”
For student-scientists at Penn State, Emily suggested that anyone looking to be involved in outreach projects should start at the Eberly College of Science’s Office of Science Outreach — or better yet, take her class! Emily is a co-instructor for SC 451: Science Outreach and Communication.
“During the course of the semester, students in the course develop an outreach project that they design and implement with the help of the instructors,” she said. “I highly recommend the class!”