Robin Bingham’s passion is undergraduate research. She joined the Western faculty in 1997 immediately after earning her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder and has been a catalyst for undergraduate research ever since.
For Bingham, a key feature of the Biology program here is the Thornton Biology Research Program, which was established in 1993 and has evolved substantially over the years.
“It was very much student-driven when I got here, which is really good,” Bingham said. “But the way it was structured made it difficult for faculty coming in to really develop a research program.”
Bingham—an evolutionary biology and botany specialist—knew that personal investment and expert advice for undergraduates pursuing research was paramount to their success. In the early 2000s, Thornton restructured to allow faculty to apply for funding to initiate and maintain larger projects.
“We can provide better experiences for our students this way, and students will be more competitive as a result,” Bingham said.
Research plays a major role in graduate program admissions. For a student, having faculty mentors who are actively engaged in research raises the bar for expectations and improves the quality of the research experiences as well.
Bingham’s students have been published–on topics from herbicide resistance, cheatgrass invasion, and tomato defense mechanisms—in Bios (National Biology Honors Society) and the Journal of Environmental Science, have collaborated with researchers from Duke University and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory on projects from pollination ecology to ecological genomics, and have gone on to earn doctorate degrees.
“The students are just really fun to work with, are interesting and highly engaged,” Bingham said. “I’ve been really lucky.”