Alumni in Action

Diana L. Huestis

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Diana L. Huestis
Class of 2003
Major: Marine Science (Biology Track)
Minor: Chemistry
Where are you now and what are you doing?

I currently live and work in Rockville, MD. I am a postdoctoral research associate at the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research within the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health. Malaria remains a huge global health priority, and yet little is known about the biology of the mosquitoes that vector the disease. The major goal of the lab in which I work is to learn as much as possible about the ecology and evolution of the major malaria vector species in Africa.

If you are employed, what does your job entail and how has your Eckerd experience impacted your career?

As a postdoctoral researcher, I both design my own research projects and assist in the design and execution of other projects within my lab to address our overall research goals. I also have had the opportunity to recruit post-baccalaureate students to our lab and train them in the procedures we do and oversee their work. We also have a strong field-based component to our work, and I have also been able to train some of our colleagues in Mali on various research methods. So besides doing the work myself, I get to collaborate and work with others in the lab.

I feel that my experience as a undergraduate laboratory teaching assistant at Eckerd gave me some experience in teaching laboratory methods to others, which has definitely benefited me in my current position and even when I was training other students in the lab when I was a graduate student. I have also been fortunate enough to travel and do research in Mali, West Africa, and my study-abroad experiences through winter terms at Eckerd helped motivate me to pursue international research.

Describe some of your best memories or favorite traditions from your time at Eckerd:

My favorite memories of experiences at Eckerd involve field research, and probably helped shape what I decided to pursue as a career. I loved working on the Rainbow Run turtle project, and catching turtles and doing all of the work-ups on the turtles were my first field experiences and got me hooked! Looking back, I also really appreciate the large group presentations in Western Heritage, especially the art/music presentations and guest writers such as Elie Wiesel.

What makes Eckerd so special or why does it stand out to you as a great college? What does it mean to you now that you have been away for awhile?

I knew as a high-school student that I was very interested in science and wanted to pursue that in college; but I also wanted to attend a small liberal arts college. I feel that Eckerd is a special place because it is able to be both an excellent training-ground for young science students, but also provide the broad liberal arts background. Having been a graduate student and visiting many other universities since leaving Eckerd, I have an even greater appreciation for how much the faculty care about the students and create an amazing environment for nurturing students and their learning. Now that I have been able to actually visit and conduct research in Africa, I really appreciate the new Africa Initiative that I have heard about, and wish I could participate.

What opportunities have you had because of your Eckerd education and how have they impacted your life?

Being able to attend a small, undergraduate-only college like Eckerd allowed me to really get a lot of research experience as an undergraduate, both through projects on campus, internships I had, and independent study projects as a senior. Additionally, I was a teaching assistant for chemistry labs and tutored math and statistics. These research experiences helped me to decide that research might be a good path for me, and encouraged me to go to graduate school. Having the teaching experience also prepared me for the teaching that I would do as a graduate student. Now that I am trying to figure out what I want to do after my post-doc position is over, I am considering a career at a liberal-arts school like Eckerd, so I would say that my experience as a student there definitely impacted my life because I am considering making it my career.

What has changed about Eckerd since you left and what remains the same?

Honestly, I can't believe how big Eckerd is now - in terms of how many students there are! I do hope that the quality of the education and experience is just as good, and that the growth hasn't detracted much. At the same time, I am very impressed by and excited about the initiative to expand and create better facilities, and especially the new Science Center! I believe that once it is completed, it will serve to further enrich science education at Eckerd and make it a more prestigious place, which will help all students as they look for jobs. As for what remains the same, I hope the free-spirit nature and commitment to the students is as alive as ever!

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