Featured entomology alumni Kirsten Pelz-Stelinski

Kirsten Pelz-Stelinski is faculty at the University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center in central Florida, and our latest featured alumni.

Kirsten Pelz-Stelinski

When did you graduate from MSU? I earned my masters with Rufus Isaacs and Larry Gut in 2004 and my doctorate with Mike Kaufman and Ned Walker in 2008.

Why did you choose entomology? You can do a lot of different types of science all within entomology, from the smallest molecular interactions to observing insect behavior. As a researcher, you can also manipulate your host more than in many other types of science.

What are your best memories as an entomology student? I can’t say enough about the Department - the people were fabulous, particularly my professors. I have great memories of field seasons travelling all over Michigan and interacting with growers and the staff at the research stations. George Ayers influences how I teach, he was a great teacher. Rich Merritt’s aquatic entomology and Jim Miller’s Nature and the Practice of Science were highlights.

What is your current appointment and work at the University of Florida? I’m an associate professor with a 15% teaching/85% research split. My program focuses on insect microbial ecology, particularly the microbiome of the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), which transmits pathogen responsible for citrus greening disease. Currently, we are investigating the use of insect endosymbionts, such as Wolbachia, to reduce pathogen transmission by ACP.

What keeps you engaged in your work? I enjoy exploring nature from the smallest molecular scale up to the big scale to discover how and why something happens; for example, determining how a bacterium can manipulate an insect for its benefit. It is also fulfilling to work on something the growers urgently need. Our work on citrus greening has immediate direct impact for the 9 billion dollar citrus industry in Florida.

Any advice for current students? Make sure you have a broad understanding of biology, from ecology to the molecular basis of physiology. You never know when those skills will be helpful.

What is it like when a marriage includes two entomologists? Overall, it is really positive and we certainly enjoy sharing ideas with each other, although it can at times present challenges. You may be experiencing the same stresses but you are also uniquely positioned to understand what the other person is going through. That is very valuable.

Last comments? Having a breadth of knowledge has been really important for me. I didn’t intend to do applied science but delved into that with my masters’ study. I focused on insect vectors and medical entomology throughout my doctoral studies. But then it made sense to be in Florida and here I am, working on a pathogen in citrus in a way that brings all my experience together. I’m an advocate for cultivating as many tools as you can in your scientific toolbox.

Read about past featured alumni in the Alumni Profiles section.

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