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WSU’s Research & Extension Experiences for Undergraduates Program with Carissa Morrison

Posted by Blythe Howell | October 31, 2022

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For questions or comments, contact Carissa via email at

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Episode Transcription:

Drew Lyon: Hello. Welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast, do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app and leave us a review so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Carissa Morrison. Carissa is an undergraduate at Eastern Washington University working on her bachelor’s degree and double majoring in biology and biochemistry and minoring in psychology. This summer, Carissa attended WSU’s Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates Program researching crop adaptations to unstable climatic conditions. For the research aspect of the program, she worked in Dr. Camille Steber’s lab under the guidance of Ph.D. student Nick Yacobchuk — I hope I got that name right. This lab is focused on research with wheat, particularly improving yields and resistance to pre-harvest sprouting and late maturity alpha amylase. For the extension aspect of the program, she worked with Dr. Steve Van Vleet and Dr. Nick Peck. They took field samples and worked on disseminating information from the university to farmers working in the Palouse region. Carissa is currently applying to WSU’s Ph.D. program in Plant Science and hopes to one day become a prominent researcher in urban agriculture to help provide better access to fresh food for low income families. Hello, Carissa.

Carissa Morrison: Hi, Drew.

Drew Lyon: So I guess I’d like to know why you decided to join WSU’s Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates Program?

Carissa Morrison: Yes, I had a lot of different reasons that went into the decision. One of the first ones that caught my eye looking at their fliers for it was that it said little to no experiences needed. And as an undergraduate student, I know I always feel a little nervous applying to places because I don’t always have the experience in the field that I planned to be working in yet. So knowing that kind of notched down my anxiety law as I was applying for it and let me know that they were going to meet me on my level while I went into the program. Some of the other reasons is I really like that we were working on not just with crops but specifically adapting them to problems with climate change. I think a lot of students and like this cohort of researchers that I’ll be graduating with, we’ve got a lot to worry about with climate change and then all of our future generations. So being able to face that head on and really start working at that from the groundwork was really nice. Some of the other reasons that I decided to join is, like you mentioned, I want to join the grad programs here so I wanted to get that face-to-face with a lot of advisors and I think that really helps because then they remember my face, I remember their face and then they can see what kind of student I am, as well as it was a paid internship, too. And I know when you’re looking for internships, they have a lot that are unpaid and so when you’re working as a student, you might not have as much money to go spend your whole summer with an unpaid one and they provide housing with it and actually pay you to work, so it was really nice and overall, just a great experience.

Drew Lyon: Okay. I know actually, I’m going to give something away here, it was a long time ago in 1980, I did a summer internship with Extension. So I really didn’t have a lot of familiarity with Extension and that provided that to me and now I’ve been in a career, an extension for much of my life. Did you have much familiarity with Extension prior to this program?

Carissa Morrison: No, not really any at all, actually. And it sounds like the Extension was they were just beginning to incorporate that into the program along with the research this year. And I thought it was really neat doing that Extension. I was hooked, just like you. [ both laugh ]

Drew Lyon: Good. Yeah. Okay. What was your favorite part of the experience in in the program?

Carissa Morrison: Definitely the people; making those connections, getting to know other students, other professors, and working with the farmers, too, and seeing how things looked to them from their aspect. When we were presenting, you know, it was a big group of us undergrad students and a lot of us were worried about sounding like we were kind of coming from a holier than thou kind of point of view from the university. Because a lot of these farmers are they’re so smart from working with their crops year to year, and they know so much information that especially as a student, we might not even comprehend how much they already know. So getting to work with all of these really intelligent people was really humbling and motivational to try and get on to their level and learn some of the things that they know so I can be of use to them as well.

Drew Lyon: I remember some sound advice I got early in my career that has proven true and that is, “Never be afraid to admit you don’t know something.” You get in the most trouble when you pretend to know something that you don’t, and you’ll get caught up pretty quick. So I found the farming community to be very willing to work with you as long as you admit where you what you know and what you don’t know. So —

Carissa Morrison: Yeah

Drew Lyon: Sounds like good advice to carry on if if you continue in this in that route. So how do you think the Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduate Program impacted you as a researcher and an individual?

Carissa Morrison: Yeah, so one of the things is it really helped build my confidence. Like I said, I was very nervous going into the program. I had had a little bit of experience doing separate research projects at my own university. But since my university doesn’t have a lot of graduate programs, we don’t have as many professors who are just focused on that research. So this was kind of like a real experience. It felt very real to me to actually be with all these Ph.D. students and getting to have that real experience in the lab was really nice, trying to do experiments on my own and come up with new experiments to adapt to the results that we were getting. It all felt very hands-on and I felt like kind of like it was a trial period for going into a Ph.D. program. It was it was a great learning experience.

Drew Lyon: That’s really good to hear because that’s a lot of people don’t have that experience in their undergraduate. And so getting it is a, it’s a great opportunity really that to see whether it’s something you like or don’t like. Sounds like it’s something you like. So that’s good.

Carissa Morrison: Yeah, absolutely. And building those connections with those professors and especially potential advisors, I think is going to be, you know, a huge impact that whether or not I get into a Ph.D. program here, I think it’s going to last, you know, for the rest of my life.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So what advice would you give to other students considering joining the program?

Carissa Morrison: My biggest thing is just don’t be afraid to try it. I actually have a little anecdote about my first roommate that I had when I came into the program, and I felt really bad because she ended up leaving. She was so nervous about joining it and I know I felt for her a lot because I was super nervous. I was shaking on my first day and it was part just because I was so excited, but also because, you know, you’re surrounded by all these extremely intelligent individuals. And so I think, like you had said, don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know a lot of things. Probably most of what people are talking about around you. But I think as long as you just do the hard work when you can, whenever you get your free time and try to prepare, and I think not being afraid to give it a try, even if you still are afraid, just do it anyway. I think that’s probably one of the best pieces of advice you can get is to just give it a good, the good old try.

Drew Lyon: Excellent. Yes, I remember sitting in my first graduate class at the University of Nebraska many years ago thinking, “What am I doing here? All these people are smarter than me.” And but then I found out they’re always thinking the same thing, too, so. [ both laugh ]

Carissa Morrison: Yeah, yeah, exactly. One of the, in my opinion, one of the smartest people in our labs, I was shocked because I had already had many of his lab mates tell me, you’ve got to talk to this guy. Whatever you’re doing, drop it. If you get a chance to talk to this guy, he is so smart, you will learn something from every conversation. And he was also probably one of the most insecure people with his intellectual abilities, which I thought was so ironic. But it does make sense. I think the smarter you do get, the more you realize how little you know. And that’s kind of a true measuring stick of intelligence is when you know you’re not that intelligent because, yeah, human brain just can’t can’t possibly comprehend everything we wish it could.

Drew Lyon: Yeah. And there’s I always tell people it means I know a great deal about very little. So there are people who know a lot more about on other topics than I do. So everybody’s got their their skills and their abilities. Yeah.

Carissa Morrison: Special niche.

Drew Lyon: Yup. What are some of the things you learned from the WSU’s Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduate Program?

Carissa Morrison: Yeah. So of course I learned to not sell myself short and to have that confidence, even if I might not know everything about someone else’s niche. I also really learned a lot about different kind of lab experiments, and I learned, you know, not only me, but a lot of my other research mates around me, we didn’t necessarily we were trying new experiments all the time. So one thing I learned is how adaptive and flexible you have to be as a grad student, whether you’re in your masters or a Ph.D. program, you’re constantly changing what you’re doing. You constantly have to change what where your aim is to get to your goal depending on your results, you know, because you never know what the results are going to be. So kind of learning to deal with that flexibility and then really internalizing the motto of our research lab, which was that research always involves re-searching because, you know, whenever you done a lot of research and then once you start going into experiments, you never really know what those results are going to be and so you always have to go back and you have to go back into the literature and look again and just really thoroughly re-search it all.

Drew Lyon: Well, it sounds like you got a great experience and learned a lot of very interesting things. I would say as a double major biology biochemistry minor in psychology that you definitely shouldn’t sell yourself short because that’s a rigorous program you have there. Thank you for coming on and talking with me today about WSU’s Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates Program. It sounds like it’s a great program to expose people to both research and extension, which is great to see.

Carissa Morrison: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me on. It was a joy to be here today.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s — ( You can find us online at and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University’s endorsement.

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