Member Spotlight – Katie Murphy

Katie Murphy

Katie Murphy

2020 Ambassador of the Year

I’m Katie Murphy, a PhD candidate in plant biology at the University of California (UC), Davis, and the two things I love most are corn and chemistry. After receiving an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Stanford University, I came to UC Davis to learn about the best chemists there are: plants. My graduate research in the Zerbe lab is all about terpenes—what they are, how they’re made, and what they’re doing for plants. To answer these questions, we study the chemical structure of diterpenes, the genes that control terpene production, and their activity inside and outside of plants. Our research has uncovered a new class of antifungal diterpenoids in maize with unique structures important for the maize response to both biotic and abiotic stress. My research has been supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and the USDA Predoctoral Fellowship.

In addition to my graduate research, I’ve worked to hone my skills in mentorship, leadership, and business. Last summer I interned at TechAccel, LLC, in St. Louis, Missouri, as a science advancement manager through a UC Davis Innovator Fellowship. TechAccel is an investment and development firm dedicated to advancing agricultural research, and I enjoyed exploring my passion for getting plant research into the hands of farmers.

I joined ASPB in 2014 when, as a SURFer (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow), I studied anther development in the Walbot lab at Stanford University. I am thankful for the service, support, and community our Society provides.

In addition to being an ambassador, I’m the Early Career Representative on the Women in Plant Biology Committee. Through this committee, we’re working to build an inclusive and welcoming community for women plant biologists, and I’m proud of our work producing webinars, annual meeting events, and more. Check out our content on Plantae ( and follow us on Twitter (@ASPB_WiPB). In the Student Space on Plantae (, you can find articles by me and fellow early career researchers with advice on navigating graduate school and a webinar on how to make and use an individual development plan. I’m also excited to be part of the new Early Career Plant Scientists Section of ASPB, where we’re working to provide a network and opportunities for our newest generation of researchers.

Understanding the natural world brings me so much joy and wonder, so it’s important to me to share my passion and help others see the chemical world of plants. Taxpayers fund my research and education and deserve the opportunity to learn about it, so it’s also important to me to share my research accessibly. To explain my research to my family and friends, I started a blog ( where I share jargon-free versions of our recent publications. I participated in the University of California Grad Slam competition (equivalent to the Three Minute Thesis competition;, where I shared my love of corn and took home first prize at UC Davis and the wider UC competition. At the iBiology Young Scientist Seminar series, I learned how to be a better communicator and shared my research (

I thank the ASPB leadership, especially the Ambassador Program, for their dedication to our Society, and especially to early career researchers. I’m honored by this award and look forward to Plant Biology 2020.

Want to get in touch? Connect with me on

Note: This article was originally published in ASPB News

ASPB members share a common goal of promoting the growth, development, and outreach of plant biology as a pure and applied science. This series features some of the dedicated and innovative members of ASPB who believe that membership in our Society is crucial to the future of plant biology. If you are interested in contributing to this feature, please contact ASPB Membership at

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