While many students attend universities in hopes of finding their desired career field, some have an instinctive sense of this throughout their life. One such student is Priya Krakker.
Krakker is a fourth-year biology student at Colorado State University with a Genetics, Evolution, and Systematics concentration.
Along with her academics, Krakker is an undergraduate researcher in Rachel Mueller’s Lab at CSU, which focuses on researching how genetics impact evolution through studying salamanders.
“I get to study and investigate the consequences of large genome and cell size on brain morphology in Plethodon salamanders,” Krakker said.
In other words, Krakker’s research focuses on how the genetic makeup and cell sizes influence the structure of the brain in woodland salamanders.
The research that Krakker is working on could help to provide insight into the role genetic evolution has in brain structures in other species as well.
Krakker always had a sense that her interests would lead her to animal studies in one way or another.
“When I told my parents that I was studying salamanders it wasn’t a surprise to them at all,” she said.
Though her interest in animals has been lifelong, the realization that she wanted to study genetics specifically came to Krakker more recently.
“It was in my AP Biology class in high school that I realized how much I loved studying genetics,” she said.
Krakker’s interest in genetics grew quickly because of two main factors in the class: the teacher and the material.
The teacher Krakker had inspired throughout the class and eventually became a mentor to Krakker for nearly half of her high school experience.
Additionally, the class provided Krakker a chance to learn about genetics in a more in-depth way.
“Learning more about genetics made me realize how much there was to the field and how much I loved those topics,” she said.
Genetics was not the only interest that Krakker discovered as she’s continued her academic career.
Krakker has been an undergraduate Teaching Assistant in the biology department since spring of 2019. Specifically, she’s been an undergraduate teaching assistant for Life 102 for five semesters and helps with herpetology courses during spring semesters.
As a teaching assistant Krakker helps to set up and clean the labs, answer questions and has even had the opportunity to teach.
This has helped Krakker realize that she also has a passion for teaching science.
“Watching the moment when a student connects two ideas or grasps a concept they didn’t fully understand is such an amazing thing; it really is one of the coolest things to experience,” she said.
Krakker has also been featured as a guest speaker for student organizations. In these meetings, she has been able to talk about her research to other undergraduate students.
“So many people I’ve talked to had interests in research but didn’t know how to get started,” she said. “So getting to help with that has been very rewarding.”
In the short term, Krakker hopes to apply to grad school to continue learning, researching and teaching. Ultimately, she hopes to research the genetics of squids and octopuses.
“There’s so much coming out about those species in the field of genetics,” she said. “I have so many questions, so running my own lab to figure those questions out would be the long-term goal.”
“Priya has developed a deeper curiosity about the natural world and a stronger sense of identity as an important and valued member of our lab community,” said Rachel Mueller, a professor of biology at CSU and head of the lab Krakker researches with. “I hope she continues to translate her curiosity into discovery, and that she shares her passion for biology with many students, given her wonderful talent as a teacher.”