University of Pittsburgh, Graduate Student
Plants, ecology, evolution, and chemistry
Hi! My name is Cassie Majetic, and I am currently a graduate
student at the University of Pittsburgh, in the Ecology and Evolution
graduate program in the Biological Sciences department. Unlike
many botanists, my interest in plants, botany, and science came
in a rather roundabout way. I was always fascinated with nature,
but in a more active, playful way - some of my earliest memories
are of fishing trips with my father and grandfather and camping
trips with my mother and our Girl Scout troops over the years.
To me, plants were, for a very long time, just a part of the background,
a set of organisms that were an important feature of the landscape
but not much more. Even science itself was just a school subject
that I worked hard to excel in simply to improve my grades –
my goal in life for a very long time was to be a writer or a book
editor, as I loved to read, write, and analyze.
Hesperis matronalis – my study
However, my attitude changed drastically when I entered high
school. I found myself taught biology and chemistry by two teachers
who were passionate about science and its impacts on daily life.
Lab work became something I greatly looked forward to in both
subjects. Spurred by this, I entered college to study environmental
science. On my first experience doing field work, sampling fish
in a stream near the college, I managed to get myself wet and
shocked myself (mildly) with the electrofishing equipment! Despite
this early experience, I loved doing field work in my college
labs. I thought environmental science was the perfect fit for
me. I planned to join the EPA or work on a Haz-Mat team after
college. But then, my advisor learned I was doing better in my
organic chemistry class than in my environmental policy writing
class. He suggested I declare my major as biology instead –
I’d be able to take as many of the environmental lab science
courses as I wanted and they would count toward my biology degree
as they were cross-registered, and I wouldn’t have to take
the policy classes that I didn’t really like. I agreed,
and it was the perfect fit for me.
While I spent most of my time in my undergrad working in aquatic
systems, with insects and fish, when the time came to do my senior
thesis project, I chose to work with plants. I had taken a fascinating
plant physiology class and I was starting to think about working
with plants more closely. In particular, I was intrigued by their
chemistry - they could defend themselves, could attract insects
to ensure reproduction, could create these intricate interactions
with other organisms. Ecology and evolution continued to fascinate
me as well, and when I realized that you could actually do field
and experimental work in these subjects, I knew that this was
where I wanted for focus my future research.
I spend lots of time studying potential pollinators, like the
two pictured here.
After graduation, I started my current Ph.D. work in Pittsburgh.
I work in the lab of Dr. Tia-Lynn Ashman, collaborating with Dr.
Robert Raguso, currently at Cornell University. My dissertation
focuses on the potential evolutionary and ecological roles of
floral color and floral scent in Hesperis matronalis, an introduced
biennial and member of the Brassicaceae family. We are interested
in understanding the ways in which floral color and floral scent
associate and interact to influence the pollination ecology of
this species. In particular, my current work attempts to assess
whether biochemistry, environment, genetics, or phenotypic plasticity
might affect floral scent profiles in Hesperis, and whether floral
scent or color are associated with changes in pollinator behavior
or female fitness. This latter question, particularly in regards
to floral scent, is one that has yet to be completely answered
by research. I was thrilled to be able to present some of this
work during the 2007 Botany conference in Chicago, which I attended
thanks to a travel grant from the Phytochemical section of the
BSA. My work attempts to combine plant evolutionary ecology and
chemical ecology, lab work and field work, a fun approach that
allows me to learn and apply a variety of techniques. I feel like
I’m always learning something new, which I love. I hope
to continue this approach when I complete my degree.
My field work includes lots of different types of manipulations
Over my time at Pitt, I’ve also developed an avid interest
in education. My graduate work has been supported by teaching
at the university and two years of participation in an NSF GK-12
program (in which I worked with K-3 students, teachers, other
grad students, and professors on science curriculum rethinking
and development in the Pittsburgh public school district). While
the two opportunities were vastly different, I learned that I
loved being an educator. Whether kindergarteners, teachers, or
college students, I enjoyed instructing, encouraging, and teaching
something new. In particular, I relish all of my opportunities
to teach about plants - I love the look that people get when they
realize how interesting and how complex plants are, not at all
just a part of the background as I once thought. I look forward
to continuing my teaching as a major part of my career.
While my journey into a career in botany was not as direct and
straightforward as that of some, I’m thrilled to be here.
Plants are fascinating organisms and we have so much yet to learn
Botanical Society of America
Mission: The Botanical
Society of America exists to promote botany, the field of basic
science dealing with the study and inquiry into the form, function,
development, diversity, reproduction, evolution, and uses of plants
and their interactions within the biosphere.