Reaching for the STARS
by Marcia Hill Gossard '99, '04
When Travis Kent was still a high school student in Boise, Idaho, Washington State University was one of his top choices. But it was on a visit to the WSU School of Molecular Biosciences when he was told about STARS, a fast-track program where students can begin as undergraduates and earn a doctorate in seven years, when he knew this was the place for him.
“I was excited about getting into the lab early and that shifted my decision to come to WSU,” said Kent, who in 2016 will earn a doctorate in genetics and cell biology.
With STARS, or Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies, students can begin their laboratory training their first year. Each semester and over the summer students receive stipends and the funding allows them to spend time doing their own research, rather than working off-campus.
“Without the STARS program, I wouldn’t have been able to work in a lab over the summer,” said Kent. “I would have been further behind in my research.”
Because he had done lab rotations as an undergraduate, by the time he entered graduate school he was able to focus more on research and he was ahead of other graduate students entering the program.
“I’ve been working in the lab for six years,” said Kent. “I feel better prepared for my exams and I was ahead in my coursework as well.”
Kent’s research is on how abnormal levels of vitamin A, or retinoic acid, can affect fertility in men. A fat soluble vitamin, retinoic acid levels are affected by an individual’s metabolism.
“Half of all infertility cases are men,” said Kent. “But in about 50% of those cases, they don’t know the cause.” His research could lead to different advice by doctors who may prescribe vitamin A to treat acne if it could cause infertility later on.
“I’m passionate about reproductive biology,” said Kent.
When he finishes graduate school at just 24 years old, he will have many options in front of him.
“Whether I work in academia, government, or for industry, I haven’t decided,” said Kent. He is currently planning to pursue three to five years of postdoctoral training after he earns his doctorate.
“After that, I am keeping my options open,” said Kent.