Life sciences alum nurtures love of animals through research

Many animal lovers dream of becoming veterinarians, but some realize during college that there are other ways to interact with animals. Susannah French, a 2006 alumna of Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, chose one such path and is now an assistant professor at Utah State University studying reptiles and their environment.

“As an undergraduate, I became really interested in scientific research and wanted to pursue it further in a graduate program,” French said. “I was fascinated by how animals use different internal and behavioral mechanisms to survive diverse environments.”

That interest directed her to ASU’s doctoral biology program in the school. As a graduate student, she learned the skills needed to run her own lab, conduct independent research and obtain funding. French said the thing she enjoyed most about her time at ASU was the diversity of her peer’s research and the lasting bonds created while working together.

“The integrative nature of the School of Life Sciences allowed for a lot of interactions with students performing other types of research,” French said. “I’m still collaborating with a behavioral neuroscientist and several fellow physiological ecologists who are friends from SOLS.”

French said her mentors, including professors Pierre Deviche, Glenn Walsberg and Dale DeNardo, provided the critical guidance and support she needed to advance her career.

“My interactions with them were invaluable to my research and training as an academic,” French explained. “I still contact them today when I need advice and I have adapted different parts of my own mentoring style from theirs.”

After earning her doctorate, she accepted a post-doctoral research associate position at Indiana University, where she was funded by a National Institutes of Health fellowship. There, French initiated a research project in the Galapagos Islands focused on how reptiles adapt to environmental disturbances — a project that is still ongoing.

When the fellowship concluded, French was drawn to an opening at Utah State that offered a perfect mix of research, teaching and outreach.

“My main focus now is research, but I still get to teach the courses I love best and got me interested in physiology,” French said.

French said mentoring students is her favorite part of the job — and thanks to her ASU experience, she is ready to teach the next generation what it means to be a researcher and professor.  

Susannah French displays an iguana. She studies how environmental changes affect their ability to respond to stres, to reproduce and fight disease.
French draws a blood sample from an iguana.