Q&A with genetics and cell biology student Nora Zander

When genetics and cell biology major Nora Zander graduates from WSU in May, the Toledo, Washington, native hopes to either pursue a career as a forensic DNA analyst or remain in school to earn a master’s degree and eventually teach middle or high school science. While the School of Molecular Biosciences student disliked science growing up, she learned a great teacher can spark curiosity and make all the difference.

How has WSU prepared you for your future?

WSU has prepared me for my future by providing many resources and opportunities. I have consistently had good advising experiences, with advisors who have supported me academically and emotionally. Being able to work in a research lab has been invaluable, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve learned so much through my classes, research, and extracurriculars like the Cougar Marching Band and Tau Beta Sigma. I think I would have missed out on a lot if I went anywhere else.

What’s your favorite thing about WSU?

My favorite thing about WSU is how you can always find a community, whether that be through clubs, classes, or jobs. There are just so many opportunities on campus to be involved in some capacity and find the people you connect with. Also, coming from a very small rural area, WSU feels very much like home to me.

What’s your favorite course you’ve taken at WSU?

My favorite course I’ve taken at WSU is MBioS 304 (or Microbiology and Molecular Biology Laboratory) taught by Dr. Helmick. I took this course during the eight-week summer session in 2022, so we met four days a week for three-hour labs. The labs were so fun and informative. I think this class taught me the most of all my classes and really solidified some concepts I was learning about in other lecture classes. I enjoyed this class so much that I even became a teaching assistant in the fall 2022 semester for MBioS 101 (Introductory Microbiology).

What do you hope to do when you graduate? 

Right now, I hope to become a forensic DNA analyst after graduation, but I am also thinking about earning a master’s degree to teach middle and/or high school science. I have really enjoyed being a TA and teaching science. I actually quite disliked science growing up and was much more interested in music and writing (I still am). However, when I took a college-level chemistry course through Running Start in high school, my view on science changed. I realized that having a teacher who really cares about what they teach and knows how to teach well makes all the difference. I would love to be the kind of teacher who cares about the science and the students and understands that not everyone has the same learning style.

Do you have a job or work in a lab or somewhere else?

I have worked in Dr. Philip Bates’ lab (in the Institute of Biological Chemistry) since March 2021 as an undergraduate research assistant. The Bates lab researches plant lipid metabolism. I have helped the lab by analyzing seed oil content through gas chromatography, transplanting and harvesting seeds, analyzing seed protein content through protein assays, and analyzing gene expression through DNA extraction and polymerase chain reactions (PCR), among other things. I have worked on my own project – the goal was to figure out how certain genes involved in oil synthesis affected oil production when overexpressed in the plants. I presented this research to the full lab. I joined this lab when all of my laboratory classes were still online, so working in the lab provided me the opportunity to learn the basic lab skills I couldn’t learn in class due to the pandemic. I have learned so much about the research process and biochemical, molecular, and genetic techniques as well as how to effectively understand and communicate science.

What’s one of your favorite things or favorite hobby?

My favorite hobby is playing the clarinet in the Cougar Marching Band! The community of the CMB is great – it’s like a big family. I’ve learned dedication, teamwork, and hard work from being in the CMB.

What’s a unique fun fact about you?

My grandfather was born in 1901 and lived until 2001, the year I was born!