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Hard work pays off: NMSU student places first in entomology competition

Melise Taylor, a New Mexico State University graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in agricultural biology and integrated pest management, has been competing in the annual meeting of the Southwestern Branch of the Entomological Society of America since her sophomore year of undergraduate studies.

Melise Taylor celebrates her win at the annual meeting of the Society of Southwestern Entomologists with Scott Bundy (left), and Ed Bynum, president of SSE. (Submitted photo)

This was her last year to participate in the competition, which took place in San Antonio, Texas, and even though she has a full-time job and is working on her master’s thesis, her drive and excellent research earned her first place.

Like many other NMSU students, Taylor’s success in this competition is the reflection of hard work and balance of professional, academic and personal life.

“This was the last meeting I was going to be able to attend before graduation and I was really shooting for first place,” Taylor said. “To me it’s a big accomplishment to go against other graduate students from bigger schools and more developed departments and still be competitive. So it was a personal accomplishment as well as a display of what the department of Entomology, Plant Pathology, and Weed Science at NMSU has to offer.”

Taylor presented a portion of her master’s thesis research that deals with how a type of stink bug lay eggs, which was also her first publication.

“It may seem trivial but it is an important piece of their biology that can affect future research and control of this invasive pest,” she said. “For me the most interesting part of the research was finding that these stink bugs were laying their eggs in the soil. There is no documentation of any other species of stink bugs displaying that behavior. It was also interesting to see their ritual. My research describes the phases of laying the egg; the behaviors that every female displays during the process.”

“Her work had important implications, both economically, since it impacts effective management techniques of this pest species, and on a basic biological level because the observed behavior of the bugs is so unusual for this family of insects,” added Scott Bundy, her adviser and associate professor of agronomic entomology.

Before the presentation, Taylor had to overcome her nervousness. Even though she had participated many other times, this would be the last opportunity she had to earn first place.

“I’m an introvert at heart so the most difficult part of the competition was getting over my nerves. I knew the material and was confident in my research; it was the delivery I was worried about,” she explained.

She said the competitions have been a learning experience in her academic career and a confidence booster.

“I’ve learned scientific writing and public speaking skills that were otherwise lacking in my curriculum,” Taylor said. “There’s always the chance to network at these meetings, connecting with professionals and fellow students can really affect how things go when you’re looking for a job or maybe a doctorate position.”

Taylor moved in the middle of her master’s education, to work for the City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department: Urban Biology Division. She monitored mosquito populations in the city and tested for West Nile Virus, knowing that finishing her degree would become more challenging. As a full-time employee and student, Taylor, with the support of her husband, makes every effort, from taking online classes to traveling back and forth from Albuquerque to Las Cruces every two weeks and staying in contact with her adviser, to make sure she is meeting the standards of her research.

“I am lucky to have a job that is equipped with microscopes and a boss who is willing to let me utilize those resources when I need them,” she said. “Communication with Dr. Bundy is the key to this project. Sometimes I email him about five times a day or we will have phone conversations about what’s going on. He has also made himself available and met with me on the weekends when I’m in Las Cruces. It’s been a challenge and a lot of driving, but I appreciate the opportunity to finish this degree while pursuing other goals in my personal life.”

Taylor will graduate in December and continue to work for the Environmental Health Department. She said coming back for a doctorate degree is one of her future options.