Q&A with graduate student Elis Fisk

Elk Fisk

Elis Fisk is pursuing a doctorate in the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine’s Combined anatomic pathology residency and PhD program as he investigates a phenomenon called acquired tick resistance in the lab of Dr. Dana Shaw in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology.

When he wraps up his studies by the summer of 2025, Elis hopes to pursue a career in academia where he can help to inspire the next generation of veterinary students while also serving as a pathologist.

He recently took time to answer questions about his experiences at WSU and the College of Veterinary Medicine.

What are you researching at WSU?

My research centers on a phenomenon called acquired tick resistance (ATR). Hosts that develop ATR can mount an immune response against ticks following repeated tick bites. This immune response can harm the tick — it might detach from the host early, molt less successfully, or die. ATR can even help protect hosts from certain tick-borne pathogens. Not every host is capable of developing ATR. Hosts that share the native range of a tick species are thought to be unable to develop ATR against that tick species. However, my research suggests that interactions between ticks and their natural hosts may be more complex than we currently understand. My project aims to investigate these tick-host interactions and the impact they might have on pathogen transmission.

How has your mentor helped you?

I couldn’t have done my research without Dr. Shaw’s guidance. She gives excellent advice — sometimes it’s an idea for a collaboration with another researcher, or a publication that she recommends I read, or just a nudge in the right direction. Despite her busy schedule, she always makes time to meet with me regularly about my project. Research can be a challenging experience, but I’ve never felt like I’ve had to flounder through it all alone. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive mentor!

Why did you decide to complete your doctorate at WSU?

While I was in veterinary school at Michigan State University, I was already hearing great things about the program from pathology residents at Michigan State who knew residents at WSU. WSU’s anatomic pathology program is relatively large, and I knew that by working with many pathologists I would be able to benefit from many different perspectives and areas of expertise. Upon reading more about the PhD program at WSU, I found Dr. Dana Shaw’s work. I think invertebrates are fascinating (be it tarantulas, honeybees, starfish, etc.), so working with ticks and tick-borne pathogens really appealed to me. I later ended up joining Dr. Shaw’s lab.

What has been your favorite thing about WSU?

My favorite thing about WSU is the people. I love how supportive the pathologists are. They love teaching, and it really comes through whenever we work on a case together. There’s a great sense of comradery and collaboration between the residents that I love being a part of. And the veterinary students here are fantastic. They are always so eager to learn, and their enthusiasm makes teaching fun.

What about WSU has surprised you the most?

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I first visited WSU, but I was surprised at how friendly and welcoming everyone was.

What do you hope to do after graduate school?

Though there are many career paths I could take after graduation, I would most like to remain in academia. I’ve had the opportunity to act as a teaching assistant for a few vet school classes over the years, and I’ve realized that I really enjoy teaching. I would love to continue educating the next generation of veterinary students while still using my skills as a pathologist to diagnose diseases and support researchers.