Top research, friendly spirit

WSU wins over determined, talented graduate student

PULLMAN – When WSU graduate student Laura Wayne was 4 years old, she sat her mother down and said, “I want to go to kindergarten.” She had felt envious, she says, when her two older brothers returned from school every day with homework.
Years later, when Wayne was 12, she asked her parents if she could go to Australia. Not realizing she was serious, they said, “Sure.” Several months later, they were surprised to learn that through school fund raisers their daughter had earned much of the money needed for the trip, then paid the rest with money from her “self-made college fund.” That year, Wayne flew to Australia where she was able to hug her favorite animal, the koala.

Renewable oil

The Laura Wayne of today, a self-motivated and enthusiastic 23-year-old, has never lost that independent streak, nor the desire to learn. As a doctoral student in molecular plant sciences, she has more than enough homework now. She collaborates with John Browse, Regents professor of biochemistry and plant physiology at WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry.
Wayne focuses on developing bioproducts — specifically, plant-derived industrial oils. She first uses a model organism called Arabidopsis to investigate how to produce castor oil in a more suitable agricultural plant, such as canola. Through this research, Wayne hopes to identify renewable sources for domestic oil production that will “benefit the environment, boost jobs and enhance the overall economy.”

High school head start

A high school science teacher initially helped lead Wayne into a career in science. Her high school offered a three-year class called Science Research in which students learned “the basics.” The curriculum included reading and dissecting peer-reviewed journal articles, analyzing data using statistics, designing and writing a research proposal, and finding a mentor with whom to collaborate on a research topic.
Starting at age 16, Wayne worked in a laboratory every summer alongside a mentor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF). This research and mentoring led Wayne to attend SUNY-ESF after high school.
Because she had racked up so many college credits through working in the laboratory, taking advanced high school classes, and attending courses at a community college, Wayne earned a bachelor’s of science degree with honors in only six semesters.

Mentors motivate

It probably comes as no surprise to learn that this intelligent, energetic young woman had her pick of universities, including Purdue and UC Davis, in which to pursue graduate studies. But Wayne chose WSU “because of its outstanding research and friendly atmosphere.”
“I feel comfortable approaching professors I’ve never met before and asking them questions, which is important to drive research forward,” she says.
She is a National Institutes of Health protein biotechnology trainee and graduate student scholar award recipient who truly appreciates working in the laboratory with Browse.
“He encourages self-direction,” she says, “and allows for independent thinking by asking pointed questions. He’s laid-back, approachable and full of brilliant ideas, which motivates us further.”
Wayne is also an Achievement Reward for College Scientists (ARCS) Fellow.
“The ARCS donors remind me of family members who show a deep interest and pride in my work, and brag about me to their friends,” she says. “It’s gratifying to know that people believe in me and the work I do.”

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