By Andrew Horvath, agricultural education and communication master’s student
What started as a childhood interest of “creepy crawly critters” from her back yard has transformed into a field of study and future career for Johnalyn Gordon.
Gordon is currently a master’s student studying entomology and nematology at the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS). As a CALS student, Gordon’s proudest moment came from the very first time she was able to develop and implement a research project. The thrill she had from that experience inspired her to pursue a career as a scientist.
“I am excited to work in a field that has such a direct application to people’s lives and property,” Gordon said. “My ultimate goal is to apply what I have learned during my time as a graduate student to make a positive contribution to and impact on the urban and industrial pest management industry. I wanted to somehow channel my passion into an applied field of study that could directly benefit people and the environment. Fortunately, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences offered me just that!”
Through a course titled “Bugs and People” and the help from her professor, Rebecca Baldwin, Gordon was hired as a laboratory technician with the UF/IFAS entomology and nematology department. This position enabled her to run experiments and participate in the research design portion of projects.
Gordon mentioned the UF/IFAS entomology and nematology department seems to have equal representation of men and women among the students, faculty, and staff. She did share her concerns about potentially not being taken seriously in the pest management field because of her youth and gender.
“Certainly the pest management field tends to be largely comprised of men, especially in terms of the pest management professionals,” Gordon said. “However, in my experience, almost everyone I have come in contact with have been very helpful and willing to offer valuable insights on how to be successful in the field.”
In addition to the role model that Baldwin has been, Gordon also credits several other researchers as being inspirational women in the field of entomology and nematology.
“Many of the women that I’ve heard speak at conferences and symposiums have been inspirations,” Gordon said. “They demonstrated that women are just as capable as men in the field of biological sciences. The women I saw are successful researchers that are highly respected, and this is something I aspire to be.”
For other women working in the fields of agricultural and life sciences, Gordon provides encouragement, motivation and even a challenge.
“[Do not] let gender stereotypes hold you back when it comes to the field of agricultural and life sciences,” Gordon said. “Let your passion be the navigator, not society’s mold. Women can get dirt on their hands, can pick up snakes and insects, can be a technical director of a pest control company, can be the principal investigator of a laboratory – you name it! You don’t have to change yourself in any way. You can rock your favorite lipstick or wear a dress, you don’t have to dial down your femininity to be in the field you are passionate about.”
Note: In honor of Women’s History Month, CALS will be sharing stories of students throughout March.