Insect-focused PhD grad moves on with prestigious award, desire to educate

When Dowen Jocson was finishing up her bachelor’s degree at St. Louis University, she noticed that all the jobs she really wanted required advanced degrees, like a master’s or even a PhD. The problem was, she didn’t really know how to get those degrees.

A person kneels down in a snow-covered orchard with trees in the background.
Dowen Jocson in an orchard in winter.

“I’m the first person in my family to finish college,” Jocson said. “I didn’t know what graduate school was. I talked with my advisor and applied for the master’s program at SLU. That’s where I found that I really enjoy doing research.”

Jocson, a native of Saipan, the largest island in the Northern Mariana Islands, took that research interest even further and will graduate this weekend with a PhD from Washington State University’s Department of Entomology.

In addition to earning her doctorate, Jocson also won the prestigious John Henry Comstock Award from the Entomological Society of America’s (ESA) Pacific Branch at their annual conference last month. The award is given to a graduate student based on their research and service to the field of entomology. Jocson will be honored with the other five regional Comstock Award winners at the society’s annual conference later this year.

“So many past winners are great scientists and leaders, so it’s an honor to join that rank,” Jocson said. “I was shocked to win, and really appreciate all the supporters who wrote letters of recommendation and helped me reach the point where my work is acknowledged in this way.”

2 people stand together shaking hands holding a plaque.
Jocson receives the John Henry Comstock Award at the Entomological Society of America’s Pacific Branch annual conference.

“I’m really proud of her,” said Dave Crowder, a WSU entomology professor and Jocson’s PhD advisor. “The Comstock is a very competitive award and Dowen is such a well-rounded scientist, student, and leader. We will miss her in my lab, but she’s going to be very successful in anything she chooses to do in the future.”

Jocson’s journey to entomology wasn’t direct, but she always had an interest in insects. She spent seven of her formative years living in the Philippines, where she walked through jungles or on the beach. And she had an early interest in science that continued throughout her education.

“Since I grew up on islands, I was always out in nature, hiking and looking at plants and animals,” Jocson said. “Plus, I loved doing science experiments in high school, testing out a hypothesis. That led to eventually majoring in biology for my undergraduate degree.”

Now that she’s officially Dr. Jocson, she is starting a job as a pre-license training educator in WSU’s Pesticide Resources and Education Program. She’ll travel around Washington state training people to take pesticide license exams. That also plays into her love for science communication.

She’s in her first year as a science policy fellow with ESA, where she talks about science with the public. Even though she’s graduating, Jocson will continue to put education at the forefront of what she does.

“Teaching adults about science and how it can apply to our daily lives is really important,” Jocson said. “There is so much misinformation out there, and people are really good at spreading it. It’s vital for scientists to communicate their work so people can see how important it is for our society.”