Faculty voice:

Bethany Huot: Diversions

Dec. 6, 2017

Bethany Huot is a research associate and faculty member in the Plant Research Laboratory in the College of Natural Science. She is also an alumna of MSU’s cell and molecular biology graduate program.

Diversions are not always distractions, as my life has proven. Born on a naval base in Guam, you might say my life began as a diversion from the “typical” American childhood. My parents traded in military life to become missionaries, which meant moving 22 times before I was 12 years old, and living two years in Thailand.

Growing up, these diversions immersed me in diverse cultures and resulted in a large “extended family” from around the world. These experiences gave me a deep appreciation, respect and compassion for the people within those cultures.

My education was also full of diversions, from boarding school in Thailand to public schools in various states, private Christian school and home schooling. Reading and writing became an early passion of mine. In high school, I invested in my passion by enrolling in a mail-in creative writing course. I planned to pursue this as my career, but there were more diversions ahead.

After graduating, I visited a sustainable agriculture training center in Vietnam built and run by an “extended family” member. Seeing that one person with determination and the right skill set can make a real difference – pursuing training as a plant biologist became my new passion.

This road was also full of diversions. After earning my bachelor’s degree in biology from Western Michigan University, I was conflicted. I wasn’t sure how going to graduate school would help me be who I wanted to be. However, six years and several jobs later – including gas station manager, bank teller and tech at Dow Chemical – I applied to MSU to get my doctorate. The following years as a grad student would also be less than “typical.”

From the outside, my time in graduate school all worked out perfectly. I was recruited with a graduate school fellowship, accepted into two competitive teaching programs and was involved in both the local and international research communities. As for research, I developed and led a collaborative project with two great mentors, Sheng Yang He and Beronda Montgomery, that was recently published in Nature Communications.

But it was rough. There were times I thought things would never work and I would never finish. I decided to reach back to what my diverse childhood had taught me, the value of an extended family. I realized I didn’t have to go it alone. I would use the skills the last six years had given me and build a community of support.

Aristotle said that community brings us out of survival mode into a world where we can thrive. From this, I started a group called The Pub Club, which was designed to foster a community of minds among, and for, the researchers on my floor. This community grew to include opportunities for development of diverse skills – you know the skills the six years of diversion gave me – that are important for scientific professionals.

A year out from my doctorate, I am looking ahead to the next big adventure, but I am also taking time to look back and reflect. What have I learned? Life is unpredictable and full of diversions, but diversions are not always distractions.

While having a plan is good, don’t disregard what can be gained from those diversions; remain flexible. That said, own your path. Don’t let other people’s opinions or priorities define or distract you. Who you are gives meaning to what you do. Decide who you want to be, and then be that person on purpose… and always be on the look out for a good diversion! Otherwise, you’ll never know what you might miss.

Read more about Huot’s work to fight plant disease and address global food security