Take Two Pill Bugs and Call Me in the Morning

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Walter Baldauf
Walter Baldauf

As most of you know entomology is the study of insects, and that is what I have been trained to do for the majority of my formal education, but I have decided to pursue a career in medicine. For non-entomologists, this declaration is usually met with coy smiles and questions regarding my intentions of performing ‘surgery’ on insects and being a ‘bug doctor.’ However, unlike many of my fellow entomologists who followed their childhood fascination with insects through college and into their careers, my interest in the insect world began part way through my undergraduate studies at Purdue. I was born in Lafayette, Indiana and traveled all the way across the Wabash River to attend Purdue University. As the first person in my family to attend college I entered with little direction and struggled for the first two years while seeking a degree in sociology. However, this all changed when I took an introductory insect taxonomy course from Dr. Chris Oseto. The biology and diversity of these animals caught my attention in a way sociology never had, which led me to change my major to entomology at the end of my sophomore year.

As a junior I joined the turfgrass ecology laboratory of Dr. Douglas Richmond. As an undergraduate research assistant I became actively involved with the entire lab by helping the graduate students with their research projects. When the opportunity arose, Dr. Richmond and I worked on a proposal for an undergraduate research scholarship to fund a small project I initiated that examined how different plant defensive compounds affected the feeding behavior of Fall Armyworm. This project sparked my interest in pursuing a master’s degree to build my skills as a research scientist. Obtaining a master’s degree was the next logical step in my goal of someday having a research laboratory of my own.

After graduation I enrolled in the graduate school at Purdue. This was an eye opening experience for me in that I realized how much I needed to interact with other people. This realization came about after spending most of my time alone with Petri dishes and insect larvae during the day and the rest of my time outside the laboratory volunteering with the local Baptist Student Foundation. Volunteering enabled me to spend time with like-minded people who wanted to make a difference in the community. It also gave me a sense of personal satisfaction that research never had.

I soon realized that I wanted to spend my life serving others, but at the same time, I wanted to find a career where I could also stay within the realm of science. The health care professions, specifically medicine, seemed like a perfect fit. To test this out and gain some first-hand experience I volunteered in the emergency room at Home Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana. I spent my time observing the doctors and other medical staff working as a cohesive unit to treat patients. After several months of observation I was convinced that a career in medicine would combine both service and science in a way that no other career can.

Graduate school gave me the opportunity to truly understand the scientific process and gain an appreciation for scientific research as a whole. However, it also taught me that a career in research would be unable to fully satisfy my desire to work directly with the people in my community. This is important to me because I would not be the person I am today if it were not for the support and encouragement of those around me both personally and professionally. Over the past eight years at Purdue I have grown immensely as an individual and have benefited from the opportunities and relationships that come with an education from Purdue. If only there was a medical school on campus.

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