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Graduate student Bianca Serda granted two travel awards for summer conferences

Grad school isn’t all about hiding your head in the books, it's also a time to expand your horizons and interact with those in your future field. Scientific conferences are one such place a grad student may find themselves, surrounded by experts and ready to make lifelong connections.

One student who attended such conferences this summer is Bianca Serda, a third-year graduate student in the Sharkey lab at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory (PRL). She is in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (BMB) and the Molecular Plant Sciences (MPS) program at MSU.

She was able to attend two scientific conferences this summer: The Gordon Research Conference on Biogenic Hydrocarbons and the Atmosphere in June, and the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Plant Biology Conference in July.

Bianca Serda standing in front of a scientific poster
Bianca Serda with her poster Understanding the Protective Role of Isoprene against Ozone Stress at the ASPB Plant Biology conference.
Courtesy of the Sharkey lab

She was granted travel awards from both conferences that helped cover the cost of attending: The Gordon Conference’s Carl Storm Underrepresented Minority Fellowship and an ASPB Travel Award. The PRL assisted with travel funds as well.

“Bianca was very proactive in applying for these awards,” said Thomas Sharkey, University Distinguished Professor at the PRL and Bianca’s mentor. “They are given based in part on the research that Bianca presented at the meetings. She made the most of her attendance at these meetings, explaining her work to others and making connections to other grad students and other professors.”

At both conferences, Bianca was afforded the opportunity to present her research, Understanding the Protective Role of Isoprene against Ozone Stress. Before she left for the conferences, Tom worked closely with Bianca on her presentations.

Three women
Bianca Serda (right) with fellow Sharkey lab members, postdoc Abria Sahu (left) and postdoc Stephanie Schmiege (center), at the ASPB Plant Biology conference.
Courtesy of the Sharkey lab

“These experiences are helping me become a better science communicator,” she said. “It is helping me have a better understanding of my own project and prepare for my comprehensive exam.”

At the Gordon conference, Bianca was one of the few plant scientists in attendance, surrounded by atmospheric experts who latched onto her unique perspective on isoprene.

“A lot of people interacted with me and wanted to know more about isoprene from the plant perspective,” Bianca said. “It was a really great experience, and it was very uplifting and encouraging for me. All of the positive feedback and interactions bolstered my confidence in my science.”

By Kara Headley; Banner image courtesy of the Sharkey lab