Her excitement still didn’t prevent the leap from being as daunting as it was. Luckily, she had others who encouraged her to take it, including her lab technician Briana Price. “She’s always been a good lab manager, making sure we feel welcome and supported. Another huge part of that was giving us advice and letting us know that research opportunities are really great, but also don’t lock us into a specific field,” Raffin said. “When I told her I didn’t want to keep doing agricultural entomology and focus more on forest entomology, she was very supportive. I hope that other people are able to have someone like her in their labs to help guide them because I feel like it was such a huge blessing.”
“You’re going to miss all the opportunities you don’t apply for, so if you are interested in something just take that shot in the dark.”
Pushing through her doubt and submitting her application, Raffin was elated to see that she had been accepted for the job. The experience has emphasized to her the importance of taking chances that come her way.
“It was really scary to apply for that because I had no experience with fieldwork,” she said. “But you’re going to miss all the opportunities you don’t apply for, so if you are interested in something just take that shot in the dark. It’s always going to be a good experience — even if you don’t like it, that tells you something about yourself.”
Appeal of the unknown
After years of studying insects, it’s easy to think certain species would stand out to Raffin. Maybe ones so alien they seem to be fiction, or ones so rare that only a handful have ever laid their eyes on them. Although she would love to say her favorite is one of these, a more unassuming creature holds that honor.
“My actual favorite insect would be the common western yellow jacket,” she said. “They’re special to me because of how scared I was of them when I was a kid. It’s a very basic insect, and sometimes I feel a little embarrassed that I don’t have a super exotic favorite, but they hold a soft spot in my heart because they got me into entomology.”
Wasps in general were a jump-off point for Raffin’s interest in her field, especially during the later years of her education before college. Their unique evolution stood apart from the rest, and the further she delved into wasps, the more she wanted to learn.
“There are so many countless tiny ones that are parasitizing other creatures we don’t know about,” she said. “There are ones making galls — swellings on plants that hold eggs — that never get any recognition. There are ones that eat spiders, huge ones like tarantulas. They’re absolutely everywhere, and they’re stunning.”
Raffin felt that she could express her love of wasps and insects in the most satisfying way through biology, and the person who guided her toward this path was her mom.
“Biology feels like the field where everything matters and so much is still unknown.”
“She is the person who always encouraged me to keep learning,” she said. When her mom heard of Raffin’s interest in biology, she bought her books on insects and other animals to motivate her to continue. “Those experiences are what led me down the course of studying science because I was encouraged to ask why something was the way that it was.”
The final deciding factor for her career came from her classrooms. “As I became more diversified in my education, taking courses in physics and chemistry, I always found myself coming back to ask questions about biology because we didn’t know the answers. In physics, it was easy to say why one thing swung this way and not the other because you can measure air resistance and find other equations. But when you ask why a cell knows how to get a specific protein to a specific area, sometimes the answer is that we don’t know yet.”
Raffin’s curiosity continues to drive her as the lab-experienced, outdoorsy, wasp-loving scientist she is today. “Biology feels like the field where everything matters and so much is still unknown.”
To learn more about being a biology major, visit the department’s website here.