Jeremy Irvine in the lab. (Photo: Submitted)

Entomology, exploration, and embracing setbacks: Jeremy Irvine on undergraduate research

Jeremy Irvine is in his fourth-year of the Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree, majoring in Agronomy. Supervised by Dr. Sean Prager (PhD), Jeremy is researching the relationships among plant pathogens, their insect vectors, and the plant host of the pathogen.


When inspiration strikes

Jeremy Irvine wasn’t initially interested in research. But when a professor noticed his enthusiasm for entomology, the study of insects and their relationship to the environment, that apathy started to change.

“Dr. Sean Prager taught that entomology course, and he asked me to work in his lab because he saw that I was interested in entomology,” Jeremy said.

Jeremy explained that once he started working with Prager and PhD candidate Berenice Romero, he was inspired to start his own research journey. “I became very interested in Berenice’s research, and instantly knew I wanted to be involved.”

Becoming an expert

One entomology course wasn’t quite enough. “To conduct this research project, I needed to have a very good background in entomology,” Jeremy explained, so he took several entomology courses.

Even so, Jeremy needed to complete an extensive literature review in his particular area. “I spent a lot of time reading about topics that I didn’t fully understand or topics that I wanted to fortify my knowledge in,” he explained. “I think I spent a majority of my first week reading journal publications to help fill gaps in my knowledge of what I was trying to research, as well as previous work that was done in this field.”

Getting down to business

Despite his interest in entomology and his excitement to be working with Prager, Jeremy initially felt overwhelmed. “My first week of conducting research was very overwhelming,” he said, “but, luckily, I had very knowledgeable people to help guide and assist me.”

That guidance was appreciated as he started to tackle the logistics of a research project.

“I didn’t do much actual research in the first week, as it was mostly filled with the logistics of obtaining a pathogen, rearing insect colonies, and planting host plants," Jeremy said. “The bit of spare time I did have was spent creating a data management plan.”

A data management plan is a document that sets out how you will organize, store, and share your research data throughout each stage of your research project. It is a living document that can be modified to accommodate changes over the course of your research.

Jeremy’s first setback came during the first week. “I wanted to use Cucumber Mosaic Virus as a secondary pathogen to test its influence on insect behavior. Unfortunately, this was very difficult to obtain and replicate within my chosen host. This is mostly because Cucumber Mosaic Virus is an RNA virus, which is very delicate and unstable,” he explained.

He quickly learned that not every setback can be quickly overcome. “This is still a challenge currently, and I am looking at ways to mitigate further failure,” he said.

In addition to setbacks, he also experienced profound moments of joy. “Although my experiments are still in progress, I have had a lot of moments of joy throughout the process,” Jeremy told us. “Small things such as plants germinating how they are supposed to, insects laying eggs and hatching how I want them to, and just how everything is coming together so well is giving me a great deal of happiness.”

Advice for other students

Even though it was not something he had initially envisioned for himself, Jeremy found the process of completing a research project very rewarding.

“I think entering into a research or scholarly project is a great idea for undergraduate students. Not only is it incredibly rewarding, but it is also a great way to learn more about a subject matter that you are interested in.” He says the research project has been a great way to explore research and academia as a potential career.

“It is also a great opportunity to try out the idea of research for yourself and see if it is something you’d be interested in. It is also a great way to determine if graduate school is a future that you would like to pursue.”

When we asked Jeremy what advice he would give to other students getting involved in research, he emphasized the importance of embracing the setbacks and learning from your failures.

“I would try to remember that failure in research, and science in general, is inevitable eventually and it is part of the scientific process,” he advised. “I’d try to keep this is mind and not allow yourself to be discouraged from your research.”

Future plans

Jeremy has applied to present a poster at the 2022 Entomological Society of Canada / Entomological Society of America joint conference in Vancouver. He also presented at the USask SURE: Student Undergraduate Research Experience and you can view his poster on HARVEST