Senior Seth Rhoades doesn’t plan on making a career out of researching bee brains. But the experience of analyzing the behavior of bees with Professor Susan Fahrbach helped him discover his aspirations.
Rhoades fell in love with the research process after working with Fahrbach, a biologist who investigates connections between behavior and learning using honey bees. He discovered an advocate and mentor in Fahrbach, who has helped him pursue his own scientific ambitions, even as he moved in a different direction. And he discovered a kindred soul in their common Pennsylvania roots and love of Philadelphia sports teams.
“From the moment I started working in her lab, she has been nothing but supportive about not only my work in her lab, but also my work in other research opportunities and my ambitions for graduate school,” says Rhoades, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. to prepare for a career in cancer research or pharmacology. “She is genuinely concerned about helping shape my interests and future as a scientist.”
Last summer, Fahrbach helped Rhoades land a prestigious fellowship for prospective Ph.D. students at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. It was a shift away from the work he had done with Fahrbach, but she was still eager to support him and learn about his research when he returned to campus, Rhoades says. “She helped prepare me in her lab and then let me go and do what I wanted to do. She understood what I wanted to do, and how I could best achieve that.”
Fahrbach, the Reynolds Professor of Developmental Neuroscience, sees her role as giving students the confidence and freedom to pursue their own ideas. “I always tell my student researchers that I don’t expect them to follow in my footsteps and study bee brains,” she says. “But I also tell them that they can use their time in my lab becoming familiar with the culture of science to prepare to walk into any lab in the world. Seth proved this was the case.”
Rhoades credits the “nurturing environment” that Fahrbach provided as preparation for the next step in his journey. “When there’s a professor who reaches out and is enthusiastic, that helps to amplify your own interest. The fact that she has been willing to help me become a better researcher and scientist has opened my eyes to a field and career path.”