When Zeran (Rico) Lin ‘18 started at Cornell, she had only a vague idea of where majoring in the Plant Sciences might lead. Horticulture? Starting a farm? Then she took the “Magical Mushrooms” class with Professor Kathie Hodge spring semester of her freshman year and discovered the astonishing variation and incredible capabilities of fungi. This introduction to mycology helped shape her remaining years at Cornell. In addition to restarting “Fantastic Fungi Fanatics”, a club devoted to collection, identification, and cultivation of fungi, Lin approached Professor Gillian Turgeon in the SIPS Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section about the possibility of doing research. Lin’s three years in the Turgeon lab and in the CALS Research Honors Program culminated with her honor’s thesis “Plant and pathogen wars outside the cell: a study of plant pathogen secreted exDNases” for which she received a B.S. with Distinction in Research. “My research experience broadened my knowledge base from simple observation and identification of mushrooms to the complex genetics behind the interactions between pathogenic micro-fungi and their hosts”, Lin commented. “I began to understand that organisms are like intricate factories to operate their machines to survive, reproduce, and defense, and genetics are like the recipes and protocols that these machines follow.”
This spring, 21 Cornell students graduated with degrees in the Plant Sciences, and are moving on to exciting futures in graduate school, start-up companies, and other career paths. One of the most significant elements of a Cornell education and the Plant Sciences Major is the opportunity to deeply engage with new ideas and fields of study, and the potential this provides for life changing educational experiences. In addition to discovering mycology, Lin values the encouragement she received at Cornell to ask questions. “In the past, whenever I went to classes, I was simply remembering what the professor taught us and what the textbook said, instead of thinking about how to logically connect the knowledge that I gained in this class to what I learned in the past. However, my four years at Cornell have changed me.” Citing the emphasis placed in her classes on the process of science and not just the end results, Lin added, “I started to realize the importance of active thinking.”
In addition to graduating Summa Cum Laude, Lin received a number of prestigious awards and fellowships including the Rawlings Presidential Research Scholar Award, the Jane E. Brody Undergraduate Research Award, and the Fredric N. Gabler ’93 Memorial Research Endowment Award. Inspired by her research experience at Cornell, Lin will be starting graduate education in the Biosciences at Rockefeller University this fall.