OSU graduate builds collaborative bridge to Taiwan

October 25, 2004

CORVALLIS—Recent Oregon State University Ph.D. graduate Jessica Rykken has another title to add to her resume – international collaborator.

Rykken was one of 150 U.S. graduate students who traveled abroad as part of the National Science Foundation's Summer Institutes in Asia and Australia. The program is designed to foster collaboration between U.S. graduate students and researchers located in Australia, China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

An expert on invertebrate organisms, Rykken spent the last several years in OSU's former Department of Entomology investigating the effects of forest harvesting on the distribution and movement of beetles, millipedes, spiders and slugs. She took that expertise to Taiwan, where she was able to explore in greater detail the spiders' share of the food web. She spent eight weeks at a research lab noted for its spider behavioral studies as well as biodiversity work.

Rykken's mentor, spider ecologist I-min Tso of Tunghai University, is the program's biggest fan. He points out that Taiwan is an ideal place for graduate students working in field biology.

"Graduate students working on ecology, animal behavior or biodiversity, will find Taiwan to be full of wonderful research material and subjects," he said. Indeed, Rykken explored the tropical, subtropical and high elevation alpine ecosystems during her few weeks.

Tso points out that Rykken isn't the only one to benefit from the program. His students also benefit from the exchange. "Academia is becoming more of an international affair, so the ability to encourage interaction among students and researchers from other countries will be essential training for Taiwanese students," he said.

The Taiwanese government has also taken notice of the need for more international exchange. It is encouraging foreign graduate students to conduct their study in Taiwan by providing grants for travel and living expenses for undergraduates, graduate or Ph.D. students.

Rykken says she learned much during her short stay. "Not only did I learn a lot about spiders, but also about different ways to approach research problems," she said. Indeed, using chopsticks to construct pitfall traps was not something she had considered previously.

Her advice to those interested in such as opportunity? Make contacts with people before you apply so that you have someone advocating for you. Andy Moldenke, Rykken's adviser and a scientist with OSU's Agricultural Experiment Station, had ties to the work being conducted in Taiwan's long-term ecological research sites.

Author: Virginia Gewin
Source: Jessica Rykken