From Classroom to Application: How One Entomologist Found Her Calling in Urban Entomology
By Karen Poh, Ph.D.
Editor’s Note: This is the next post in the “Standout ECPs” series contributed by the Entomological Society of America’s Early Career Professionals (ECP) Committee, highlighting outstanding ECPs that are doing great work in the profession. (An ECP is defined as anyone within the first five years of obtaining their terminal degree in their field.) Learn more about the work ECPs are doing within ESA, and read past posts in the Standout ECPs series.
Jamora Hamilton, Ph.D., is a development scientist for Bayer Environmental Science, where she conducts research on cockroach bait and behavior. Prior to her current position with Bayer, Jamora earned her bachelor’s degree from Clemson University, where she majored in chemistry and minored in entomology. From there, a serendipitous opportunity to take an entomology course changed Jamora’s trajectory. With a new-found interest in entomology, Jamora completed her Ph.D. at North Carolina State University, combining her interests in chemistry and entomology to study cockroach behavior, survivorship, and chemical ecology.
During her studies, Jamora has also been an active advocate of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in her department, graduate program, urban entomology, and beyond. Jamora has been a member of ESA since she started her graduate career and was awarded first place at the 2019 ESA Annual Meeting in the Graduate 10-Minute Paper Oral Presentation in the session “MUVE Insecticide Efficacy and Resistance 1.”
Poh: As an urban entomologist, your Ph.D. focused on German cockroach (Blattella germanica) behavior as a means to control them. Why did you decide to focus on an urban entomology topic? What were some of the major findings of your dissertation?
Hamilton: I decided to focus on urban entomology because I was interested in helping people manage their pest problems. Often the people most impacted by pest problems are low-income or minority communities that sometimes do not have access to information or resources needed to solve their problems. I wanted to investigate alternative and cost-effective management strategies that could be shared with the community and make their lives a little easier.
Some of the major findings of my dissertation were about the German cockroach aggregation pheromone. Through behavior tests, we found that the attractive chemicals were in the cockroach feces and were produced by gut and fecal bacteria. These bacteria were impacted by the diet of the cockroaches, and we found that when different cockroach colonies were fed different diets, nymphs were able to recognize their own colonies’ fecal odor and preferred to aggregate with this odor. The identity of these chemicals has been contested in the literature, and this colony-recognition behavior could be an explanation. This research was significant as the first evidence of colony recognition in a non-social insect.
How did you first get interested in entomology? Was there a specific moment where you knew you wanted to continue exploring the field of entomology?
I first got interested in entomology when I took a random entomology course at Clemson to get a science and technology credit needed to graduate. There were other classes that I could’ve taken to get the credit, but I thought the entomology course would be interesting since it was so different from my other classes.
For this class, we were required to make a small insect collection, so we were given insect nets and took trips to different places on campus to collect insects. I had so much fun smacking bushes with nets and stalking butterflies, I started to become more interested in their behaviors. I knew I wanted to continue exploring the field of entomology when I took an aquatic-insects class. We also had to make an insect collection for this class, so I would be standing in the middle of streams, swamps, and rivers (even though I can’t swim), using different techniques and equipment to catch these tiny creatures.
While identifying the insects wasn’t as fun, it was extremely satisfying figuring out what you just caught. These classes made me realize that insects are everywhere and are so much more complex than I originally thought. I knew then that I wanted to continue researching insects to understand more about them.
You received many honors and awards over the last few years, including the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology, and the Graduate Women in Science National Fellowship, which are huge achievements—congratulations! What are some ways that students can be successful when applying for fellowships and awards?
When applying for fellowships and awards, the most important part is having people that you trust to review your applications. Professors, postdocs, other students, and even your family can provide great feedback on your writing. You can also look at examples of successful applications if they are available. Also, it’s good to apply for as many fellowships or awards as you can. Even if you do not receive the award—try not to get discouraged—it is great practice, and you can use the feedback from reviewers on your next application.
You have also been involved in many organizations dedicated to improving diversity and mentoring. What was your experience as an underrepresented student in an entomology department, or in general? How have your experiences inspired you to pursue opportunities to improve diversity and equity initiatives or mentoring other students, especially those who are also underrepresented in science?
As an underrepresented student in an entomology department, I often felt out of place and alone. I felt that I didn’t really fit in, and I struggled to make friends outside of my lab. I also dealt with many microaggressions during this time and wanted to quit. I was able to overcome this by talking to postdocs in my lab who were people of color, and mentors who were African American professors outside of the department. They encouraged me to focus on my goals and to be confident in myself.
These experiences inspired me to become involved with the Graduate Student Collaborative at NC State, and, because of this, I helped organize a peer mentoring program among graduate students in the department. I also participated in various outreach events to hopefully encourage others to pursue a career in science.
Since graduating with your Ph.D., you started working in industry. What do you currently research as an entomologist in the industry sector? What does a day in the life of an industry entomologist look like?
In my position I assist the field development team with different research projects, either doing some research myself or working with universities or other cooperators to complete the research. I am currently researching cockroach baits and their efficacy in managing cockroaches. I do not have a typical day-to-day routine; sometimes I may have to go into the field, sometimes I may need to go to the lab, and some days I may spend reading papers at my desk. Because of COVID I am mainly working at home, so this may not be reflective of other entomologists in industry.
How different have your experiences been in industry thus far compared to academia? Why did you decide to go into industry, and how did you successfully make the transition from academia to industry?
My experiences in industry have been different compared to academia in that I am working on many different topics at the same time, instead of working on one focused subject. I am even working on rodent monitoring, which is completely new for me!
I decided to go into industry because I wanted to do something different from academia (I was a bit burnt out after finishing my dissertation), and I thought it would be a good opportunity to do different types of research. I don’t know if I have successfully made the transition yet. I still feel that everything I write needs to be perfect for publication, but I am working on changing my thinking from strictly research to considering both research and industry perspectives.
Do you have any advice for students who might be interested in the industry sector? What skills do you think someone needs to be successful in the industry sector?
For students who may be interested in industry, I suggest interacting with industry researchers either by attending industry panels, possibly working on industry-sponsored research, or just networking with people from industry at conferences and meetings. To be successful in industry, communication and teamwork skills are really important. You may have to work on teams with different people, and you have to be able to work and communicate with them in order to get the job done.
How do you like to spend your time winding down from a busy workday or week?
I love to eat, so sometimes I will cook something new or fun to end the day. I also like playing video games, going for walks, and spending time with my husband either watching movies or playing board games.
Thank you for sharing your experiences, Jamora! If you want to connect with Jamora and learn more about Jamora’s work, connect with her on LinkedIn.
Karen Poh, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Entomology at Penn State University and is the Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology Section Representative on the ESA Early Career Professionals Committee. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @areyoukeddingme.
All photos courtesy of Jamora Hamilton, Ph.D.