Student Spotlight: Laura Martinez

Laura Martinez

December 6, 2021

Laura Martinez is a master’s student in entomology from Albuquerque, New Mexico. After attending the University of New Mexico as an undergraduate, she chose to pursue further study at Cornell due to the entomology program and the people.

What is your area of research and why is it important?

Entomology is the study of insects; within this I am studying how an insect predator and its prey interact. My current study system is the Colorado potato beetle, an invasive pest that wreaks havoc on potatoes. A common predator that can eat the larvae of the Colorado potato beetle is a stink bug that releases an odor that both attracts other stink bugs as well as potentially reduces beetle feeding. I am looking to see if we can use stink bug odor to control pests on an organic farm.

What are the larger implications of this research?

The Colorado potato beetle is one of the most economically devastating insect pests of potato. Applying past research from the Thaler lab to real life organic farms could show us if the stink bug predator odor provides economically viable biocontrol that could be used by other organic farms that are looking to control the pest without using pesticides. Novel approaches to pest control are especially important given the immense decline of biodiversity and the impact on human health that are a result of these harsh chemicals.

What does it mean to you to have been awarded a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship?

It was a lot of work to complete. I am still a little bit in shock, especially being first-generation and knowing how big of a deal it is. I also want to make sure that I carry out everything I wrote down about being an ally and supporting diversity at Cornell. As a recipient of the NSF GRF, I have the opportunity to make good on those efforts.

What will your fellowship allow you to do that you may not have been able to otherwise?

As someone jumping straight from undergraduate to graduate school, I now have more freedom to focus on what I want to do without worrying about other tasks like being a TA or RA. Getting this fellowship gives you an outlet to make your own decisions. YOU funded yourself! So the choice is yours, where would you like to go?

What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship?

I try my best to run for enjoyment if I can get myself to do it, I like to hang out with my two dogs, watch animated shows/movies, and at night I make sure to take time to read something I like that’s not related to science at all while not feeling guilty about it because it is okay to take time for yourself.

Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?

Applying to a well-respected and well-known school was a shot in the dark for me, but I figured the worst that could happen is I wouldn’t get in and the best that could happen is I that I could. Cornell entomology is one of the best programs in the U.S. and can provide its students with resources to make it through an intense degree. In addition, the people here are amazing. My graduate advisor, Jennifer Thaler, is a kind and welcoming human being. The graduate students in the lab were also informative, upfront, and gave me confidence to apply to Cornell. When I got here, they made sure that I felt welcomed.