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BYU students top Entomological Society of America awards

If recruiting college students for graduate studies were like the National Football League draft, Brigham Young University science student James Robertson would be the number one pick in the first round.

Graduate schools from Cornell to Berkeley clamored to enroll him as well as three other BYU students after they won four of only eight awards given by the Entomological Society of America at its research competition in November.

The annual competition typically attracts advanced doctoral candidates and even post-doctoral researchers to present their work. Michael Whiting, professor of integrative biology at BYU, took nine of the more advanced members of his lab group, four of them undergraduates, to present research at ESA.

Undergraduate James Robertson won second place in one section of the oral competition, and graduate students Matthew Terry and Heath Ogden won first and second places respectively in the other section. Joshua Jones, another undergraduate, won the student poster competition.

"I'm proud of James in that he beat out eight Ph.D. students for this award," says Whiting. "He did a stellar job presenting undergraduate research which was better than most doctoral dissertations."

Two other undergraduates, Seth Bybee and Sean Taylor, have been contacted by specialists to see if they would be willing to be co-principal investigators on a National Science Foundation grant based on data presented at the competition. This presents a problem because undergraduate students aren't allowed to be principal investigators, but it's a problem Whiting likes to see.

Overall, BYU tied for second place at the competition for the total number of student awards across all sections of ESA, which is a particularly monumental accomplishment considering the powerhouse schools Brigham Young beat out.

"BYU has gained the reputation of being the place to recruit undergraduates in insect evolution and systematics, and the place for graduate studies in insect genomics," says Whiting.

Writer: Craig Kartchner

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