IPiB Graduate Josie Mitchell’s Thesis Earns Science Communication Award

IPiB graduate student Josie Mitchell
Recent IPiB graduate student Josie Mitchell. Photo credit: Robin Davies.

Recent IPiB graduate Josie Mitchell has received a 2022 Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy (WISL) Award for Communicating Ph.D. Research to the Public for including a chapter in her dissertation to describe her research to non-science audiences. 

The chapter, called “Studying proteins in fruit fly neurons,” appeared in her thesis titled, “Coordination of ion channel delivery and dendrite growth in Drosophila sensory neurons.” 

Sensory neurons help us sense external stimuli and transform these stimuli into messages that are communicated by the brain. The structure of a sensory neuron influences its receptive field and is thus important to how it functions. As a member of the Wildonger Lab, Mitchell studied how a protein called Pickpocket gets to where it needs to be in the sensory neurons of Drosophila (fruit flies) larvae to mediate the sensation of external stimuli. This fall, Mitchell will start working as a tenure-track faculty member at Kalamazoo College, where she is excited to teach and mentor biochemistry and chemistry undergraduate students in the classroom and lab and to continue engaging in community outreach. 

“I wrote this chapter because my personal and professional goal is to make science exciting and accessible to everyone,” Mitchell writes in her chapter. “The mission of the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy (WISL) is to ‘promote literacy in science, mathematics and technology among the general public and to attract future generations to careers in research, teaching and public service.’ As a scientist and educator, I am inspired by this mission, and I strive to work toward these goals.” 

In 2010, WISL Director Bassam Shakhashiri started a program to encourage Ph.D. students in the chemical sciences to include a thesis chapter geared at a general audience and pledged a cash award from the organization for each successfully completed chapter. The goal of the chapters is to explain the candidate’s scholarly research and its significance to a wider audience that could include family members, friends, civic groups, newspaper reporters, state legislators, or members of the U.S. Congress. The award mechanism has since expanded to other fields of science around campus. 

Numerous other IPiB graduate students and graduate students working in labs of IPiB faculty have received the award in the past, including Justin McKetney of the Coon Lab, Keren Turton of the Mosher Lab, Thiago Santos of the Weibel Lab, Ananya Ray-Soni of the Landick Lab, Emily Wilkerson of the Coon Lab, Ambalika Sagarika Khadria of the Senes Lab, and Jason Russell of the Coon Lab.