Biology Graduate Gazette Department Updates | Creative Works | Fun Stuff

Letter from the Editor

Welcome SDSU Biology Students! This is our first edition of the Biology Graduate Gazette. The past few years many of us realized there is a disconnect between the three biology departments: Cell and Molecular (CMB), Evolution (EB), and Ecology (ECO). Starting this newsletter is just one of the initiatives we are taking to improve the environment and camaraderie within our department. This newsletter also comes at a hectic time for the university and the world. Way back in March we swiftly moved to online classes when COVID-19 was first seriously seen as a threat. As the months progressed, protests against police brutality raged across the country, and the world. In the midst of racially charged protests, the White House tried to deport international students here on student visas. As each event unfolded, biology graduate students demanded transparency and action from the administration at all levels of the university and, to an extent, they supported us. Actions the Biology Graduate Student Association (BGSA) has taken to increase support for our students is outlined in the “Quarterly Recap” section. As the world descends into chaos, we need to support each other now more than ever. It is my hope that this newsletter will strengthen our community and provide a place for students to share their creativity, experiences, and concerns in a medium created for graduate students by graduate students.

In solidarity,

Brianne Palmer | Ecology PhD Student

Our students have been hard at work this summer. Left: Brandie White is building a very precise calorimeter to measure the heat produced by microbes in nature and at natural concentrations. This would yield direct and instantaneous measurements of microbial metabolism in any natural environment. Middle Left: Erica Pollard came helped Sara Rosenblatt collect mysid shrimp and they got stuck in a kelp paddy so she had to row them out. Middle Right: Lee Harrison surveying beach wrack communities to understand how they're being impacted by an invasive alga. Right: Jason Spar (not a biology student) helped Brianne Palmer collect biological soil crust cores at Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve to understand how crusts are affected by fire.

Accomplishments! *since March 2020*

Master's Thesis Defenses

Katie Reil, Billie Beckley, Michael Reed, Colton Johnson, Danielle Slemons, Emma Tomaszewski, Azeem Rahman, Nicholas Vinciguerra, Greta Schmidt, Benjamin McKinsey, Mayleigh Marsh, Kate Bocskor, Kylie Curtis, Madison Davis

Doctoral Dissertation Defenses

Erik Blackwood, Joi Weeks, Eric Wilkman, Winston Stauffer, Clifford Pickett, Adrian Arrieta, Erin Oliver, Adriana Trujillo, Kyle Arndt, Janet Walker, Scott Gabara

Master's Proposals

Allen Zheng, Nina Barr, Abdul Ada

Other Accomplishments

Maria Isabelle Rojas got a paper accepted with her joint work with the Shikuma lab. She is also leading a citizen science sampling project for environmental reservoirs of SARS-CoV2.

Jason Baer is building an artificial reef scaffold to attract fish and suspend coral restoration fragments (possibly also settled larvae) along with ARMS to transplant the diversity of the reef along with the coral to improve restoration success.

Jessica Griffin got her REU project published in the Journal of Crustacean Biology

Ric DeSantiago presented at Nerd Nite SD. His talk was titled "Inter Ecosystem Connectivity Through Marine Subsides: Foodwebs Don't Care about Boundaries. Nerd Nite is a science based social even that happens the first Tuesday of every month! Its a great way to network even through zoom, and a good opportunity to share your research while in a low-stakes, fun environment.

Wendi White, the Long Lab technician, is moving to UMASS, Boston to begin her MS in Biology with Dr. Jared Byrnes.

Erica Pollard and Ric DeSantiago are co-chairs of MEBSA (see the MEBSA section for more)

Chynna Bowman won the President's Award at the Student Research Symposium.

Megan Monsanto recently published a new paper in Nature Communications.

Erica Pollard was awarded the CSU COAST Graduate Student Research Grant

Darrin Ambat and Candace Alagata received Honorable Mention for their NSF GRFP Grant Applications

Sara Rosenblatt received the Explorers Club OceanX Research Grant

Lais Lima and Jason Baer created "A Hint of Science" with PassioInventa. Check out their website to read more!

Did you or someone in your lab or cohort do something super cool that should be acknowledged? Email me! Let's celebrate all our accomplishments!

Submission from Amanda Alker

BGSA Quarterly Recap

In spring of 2020, BGSA filed to be recognized as a student organization which allows us to apply for funds and gives us a bit more power when advocating on behalf of our grad student body!

BGSA started a petition to remove a professor who misused the listserv. This led to the creation of new listservs to try to prevent unwanted emails. Biology grads can use bio-grads@sdsu.edu to send emails to all the biology grad students. There are no faculty on that listserv.

BGSA also composed a statement condemning these killings and called for action from the faculty. You can read our Mission Statement and Diversity and Inclusion Statement on the website. This statement as well as personal emails from many students in the department prompted a faculty response and we are currently working within each program area, with the department, and with the College of Science to develop plans to improve diversity and inclusion at every level of administration.

We started a subcommittee aimed at promoting collaboration between grad students and undergrads. We hope to help place undergrads into labs where they can thrive and provide mentorship opportunities for graduate students.

Additionally, we started a Discord group to improve communication between program areas and foster a community within our department even though many of us are still working from home.

If you have any ideas about what BGSA can do to improve the biology grad student environment better or if you are interested in helping out with any of our ongoing initiatives, please email sdsu.bgsa@gmail.com with “Subscribe” in the subject line to get on the email list and join the BGSA Discord.

During COVID quarantine we have been spending a lot more time with our pets. Left: Grace Chao's dog Mochi. Middle: Laura Sisk-Hackworth's cat Fiona. Right: Brianne Palmer's cat Maple and her dog Tucker is hiding.


Ric Desantiago and Erica Pollard are the co-chairs of MEBSA

Broadly MEBSA's goals are to foster a supportive community among students in marine ecology and biology and to work towards improving the academic environment at the Coastal and Marine Institute Laboratory (CMIL).

They meet every other Wednesday (at a zoom time now TBD). The meetings consist of speaker seminars, outreach events to local schools, and social events. They are also starting a grad mentorship program where undergraduate students can partner with a graduate student mentor to answer research questions or prepare them for a job/future career in academia.

MEBSA is open to any students undergrad or grad that are interested in marine science, education, and awareness.

The first meeting is September 2nd. If interested please contact mebsa.cmil@gmail.com

A small selection of the creative works by Ric Desantiago. For more memes and artwork check out his Instagram @dahoodscientist and his website dahoodscientist.com

Research Spotlight

Alessandra Zuniga

Greetings everyone! For those of you who don’t know me my name is Alessandra Zuniga. I am a PhD student in the joint doctoral program in ecology here at San Diego State and I am a member of the Oechel lab group. As I now transition to my second year at the University of California Davis, I have had some time to reflect on what I have achieved so far. I wanted to use this space to share a fragment of the work I have done up to this point in my graduate career. I often fail to give myself credit for my accomplishments, but I think it is important now more than ever to exchange success stories and spread positivity within the graduate student community.

In broad terms my research focuses on investigating the effects of several climate change factors on perennial cropping systems in California. Rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations projected for the next century will likely be accompanied by other environmental changes including more frequent drought events for the state of California. The fate of many agricultural cropping systems depends on an improved understanding of how the plant water requirements are expected to change with future climate. The aim of my first research experiment was to examine the interactive effects of elevated CO2 and drought on grapevine water use efficiency. Water use efficiency is a measure of the units of carbon fixed per unit of water used by the plant. This can be a valuable tool for growers to better estimate the crops precise moisture requirements.

This past spring and summer I had the opportunity to operate a state of the art growth chamber to incubate plants in a precisely controlled environment. In the spring I collected two varieties of grapevine cuttings from a local vineyard in San Diego and grew them inside the chamber under ambient or elevated CO2 concentrations for 10 weeks. During the last two weeks of the experiment drought and control irrigation treatments were gradually induced. Leaf physiological responses, including photosynthesis and stomatal conductance, were collected using a portable infrared gas analyzer and water use efficiency was calculated from these measures. In addition, I observed leaf morphology throughout their development for changes in stomatal shape, size, and density in response to increased CO2 levels. These stomatal characteristics also have the potential to influence the plants water use strategies. I am now in the process of analyzing my results and plan to present my findings at the ASA-CSSA-SSSA conference this fall.

Despite the several roadblocks that this pandemic has introduced, I have managed to successfully complete my first research experiment. This was possible thanks to the support of my advisor Walt Oechel, lab mates, and friends who helped me navigate the changes and overcome the many obstacles that stemmed from these unprecedented times. My hats off to all of the grad students, faculty, and staff that have persevered and have been able to get through and make the most of a difficult and unusual field season. Lastly, my piece of advice to you as your start this academic year is, don’t be afraid to express your challenges to those around you, be transparent, and ask for help because chances are there is someone else who has encountered the same problem. There are many incredible people on campus willing to lend their support. I hope that this was a mild inspiration to old and new graduate students to keep moving in the forward direction. Wishing you all a safe and productive fall semester!



From Grace Chao


250g Mung beans

100g rock sugar

35g butter

15g powdered milk (optional)

a handful of salt

1. Add the mung beans to a pot and cover with water to just above the level of the beans. Bring to the boil, cover, and then turn off the heat, leaving the beans to sit for 15-20 minutes.

2. Then put them back on the stove and bring to the boil again, turn off, cover and sit for a further 15-20 mins. Do this a third time, being careful the beans do not boil dry.

3. Add the rock sugar and salt and continue simmering until the rocksugaris dissolved. Pour the mixture into a blender and blend to a paste, then run it through a sieve.

4. Add the milk and butter to the mung bean paste and cook over the stove on a low flame, until the water has evaporated.

5. Use a spatula to scrape the paste from the pan into a bowl.

6. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Make sure the plastic wrap is flush with the paste to prevent a skin from forming.

7. Brush the molds you want to use with a little oil and then divide the mung bean paste into small portions, and press into the molds, scraping off excess paste.

8. Turn the molds upside down and carefully remove the mung bean portions.

Artist Spotlight: Tierney Bougie

Tierney Bougie is a Master’s Student in the Evolutionary Biology Program. She started painting as a form of self-care and stress relief. She is originally from Oshkosh, Wisconsin and did her undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin studying entomology. Her research in the Hedin lab is focused on the speciation and hybridization of a group of jumping spiders native to the mountains of North America.

Top Left: An Allen’s Hummingbird. It’s breeding range includes the California coast. Top Right: This is Hickmania. A genus of spiders found in Tasmanian caves! Bottom: This is Habronattus pugillis. AKA a jumping spider!

Creative Writing

A Limerick by Greta Schmidt:

There once was a healthy young ocelot

who liked to eat rodents and birds a lot

she lived in south Texas

and got hit by a Lexus

because wildlife crossings there were not

Note: Photo is a stock image but I am sure Greta's ocelot's are just as cute

A comic by Evolutionary Biology student Niveditha Ramadoss depicting the trials of Cholla research. Ouch.
Students come to SDSU from near and far. After finishing his Master's at Virginia Tech, Sean Kelly stopped in Utah on his way to San Diego to begin his PhD in the Hedin lab.
Vanessa Van Deusen wants everyone to know that you can make mistakes in the past and still be a successful grad student. She once sent this resume as part of an REU application. She eventually realized her mistake and sent the real resume and still didn't get the position. Maybe this one would have given her a competitive edge. The best part is the last reference with no last name and no phone number.


Do you have something you want to submit?

Email me at brianne.r.palmer@gmail.com by December 31, 2020 for the next issue! As you can see, I will publish anything! Artwork! Writing! Memes! Accomplishments! Complaints!


I received a deluge of memes and comics so here is a small sampling! Keep them coming!


Created with images by Megan Ellis - "untitled image" • Joel Vodell - "Ocean" • Marieke Tacken - "untitled image"