Jacob Pithan is a PhD candidate working in Dr. Greenlee’s lab under the guidance of both Dr. Kendra Greenlee and Dr. Giancarlo Lopez-Martinez at North Dakota State University. Jacob’s favorite part about science is the continuous pursuit of the unknown, the infinite possible questions, and how science instills a sense of curiosity in people. He has performed a variety of vertebrate and invertebrate dissections, maintained parasite-host lifecycles, stained/preserved specimens for databases, performed morphological delineation using Motic image plus software, molecular identification including DNA extraction, DNA amplification, and sequencing. Additionally, over this past year Jacob gained experience using 3D printers, flight mills, locomotion activity monitors, and maintaining Megachile rotundata populations in the lab. Currently, Jacob is collecting performance and mortality data for Megachile rotundata. To assess changes in performance with age, he is using flight mills, locomotion activity monitors (LAMS), and drop tests. For the remainder of this year (2021), he will be quantifying the changes in oxidative damage and antioxidant activity.
Jacob realized that he wanted to be a scientist during his time working on Toads, Roads, and Nodes. It was his first collaborative research project and he loved working in the field (especially deciphering frog chorus at night). Additionally, he was in such awe of the scale of the project and how scientists, from a variety of backgrounds and locations, could work together to understand landscape ecology and how human land use affects diversity and abundance of frogs. If he hadn’t decided to become a scientist, he would have become a high school biology teacher. During his academic career, he had several amazing biology teachers during high school and in his pursuit of his undergraduate degree. Jacob loves teaching, and the thought of guiding and inspiring the next generation has always been appealing. Jacob’s dream interest would be studying parasites of pollinators. Many potential drivers have been found to affect pollinator diversity and abundance, including the spread of pathogens and parasites. With increasing reliance on commercial bees to meet the demand for pollinators, there will be an increasing likelihood of parasite spillover from commercial populations to native populations. He thinks it would be really interesting to see how this influences transmission rates of the parasites and the changes in nutritional health and survival of native social and solitary bees.
One of funniest mishaps Jacob had was during his time interning at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserves as an undergraduate student. He and his fellow interns were taking biomass clippings on scaffolding over plots during the mating season for bullsnakes. While he was hanging upside-down off the scaffolding collecting samples, a bullsnake about 4-5 feet long rushed towards him scaring him so badly that he fell off the scaffolding into the plot they weren’t supposed to disrupt.
The best piece of advice Jacob received from a mentor is to never be complacent with your current knowledge, be eager to learn, and above all be willing to question the status quo. His best piece of advice for new scientists: there are going to be many hurdles on your way to success, sometimes you will fall short of your goal, but you need to be persistent, dust yourself off, and learn from the experience.