ETSU scientist recognized among top 25 inspiring women in plant biology

O.J. Early June 13, 2024

Dr. Aruna Kilaru has been playing on a global stage for years, covering sweeping topics from food insecurity to biotechnology

In recognition of these and many other efforts, the American Society of Plant Biologists named her one of 25 inspiring women in plant biology.  

Recently, Dr. Kilaru was also featured as one of four honorees related to public policy by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  

She has earned over $3 million in grant funds since she arrived at ETSU in 2011, with other scientists citing her work more than 2,000 times in the last decade. In 2021, she won ETSU’s Distinguished Faculty Award in Research and the Notable Women Award. In 2023, she earned an appointment as Faculty Fellow for Interdisciplinary Innovation in the Biosciences.

Along with the ETSU Research Corporation, the Niswonger Foundation, and others, you are playing a key role in the bioindustrial manufacturing world. From a research perspective, what do you hope to learn from this project?  

  • Innovate and advance bioindustrial processes: We seek to develop and refine bioindustrial manufacturing processes that are both sustainable and efficient.  
  • Enhance carbon capture technologies: One of our critical goals is to improve the efficacy of carbon capture technologies.  

  • Foster interdisciplinary collaboration: This project provides a platform for interdisciplinary collaboration, bringing together experts from various fields. 

  • Promote economic and environmental sustainability: We are committed to developing bioindustrial processes that contribute to both economic growth and environmental sustainability.  

  • Train and develop future scientists: Through this project, we aim to provide hands-on training and research opportunities for students and early-career scientists. This will help in building a skilled workforce capable of driving future advancements in bioindustrial manufacturing. 
  • Generate high-impact research outputs: We intend to produce high-impact research findings that can be published in leading scientific journals.  

Teaching and mentorship have been a major part of your career. What drives you to help others succeed professionally?  

  • Passion for education: I have always been passionate about education and the dissemination of knowledge.  

  • Empowerment and transformation: There is immense satisfaction in seeing students and mentees grow, develop, and transform into confident and capable professionals.  

  • Paying it forward: Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to receive guidance and support from mentors who have played a crucial role in my professional development.  

  • Building a collaborative community: Mentoring fosters a sense of community and collaboration.  

  • Fostering innovation and excellence: By guiding and mentoring young professionals, we contribute to the cultivation of innovative and critical thinking skills. 
  • Contributing to diversity and inclusion: I am committed to promoting diversity and inclusion within the scientific community. Mentorship allows me to support individuals from diverse backgrounds.
  • Continuous learning and growth: Mentorship is a two-way street. It provides me with the opportunity to learn from my mentees, stay updated with new trends and ideas, and continuously  

Dr. Aruna Kilaru on ETSU's main campus.

What advice do you have for anyone considering a career in biology?  

  • Cultivate curiosity and passion: Biology is a vast and ever-evolving field that requires a genuine curiosity about the natural world and a passion for discovery. Let your innate curiosity drive you to ask questions. 

  • Embrace interdisciplinary learning: Modern biology often intersects with other fields such as chemistry, physics, mathematics and computer science. Embrace opportunities to learn and integrate knowledge from these disciplines.  

  • Gain hands-on experience: Seek out hands-on experiences in the lab and in the field. Internships, research projects and volunteering opportunities are invaluable for gaining practical skills and understanding real-world applications of biological concepts.  

  • Develop strong analytical and critical thinking skills: Biology involves analyzing data, interpreting results and solving complex problems. Focus on developing strong analytical and critical thinking skills. 

  • Stay updated and open to learning: The field of biology is continuously advancing with new discoveries and technologies. Stay updated with the latest research and developments. 

  • Build a network and seek mentorship: Building a professional network and seeking mentorship are crucial for career development. Connect with peers, professors and professionals in the field.  

  • Communicate effectively: Effective communication is key in biology, whether you are writing research papers, presenting findings or collaborating with others. Work on developing strong written and oral communication skills. 

  • Be resilient and persistent: A career in biology can be challenging and requires perseverance. There will be setbacks and obstacles, but resilience and persistence are vital. Stay focused on your goals, learn from failures, and continue striving towards your aspirations. 
  • Enjoy the journey: Lastly, enjoy the journey. The field of biology is incredibly rewarding and offers a lifetime of learning and discovery. Embrace the challenges and triumphs and take pride in the contributions you make to advancing our understanding of life. 

East Tennessee State University was founded in 1911 with a singular mission: to improve the quality of life for people in the region and beyond. Through its world-class health sciences programs and interprofessional approach to health care education, ETSU is a highly respected leader in rural health research and practices. The university also boasts nationally ranked programs in the arts, technology, computing, and media studies. ETSU serves approximately 14,000 students each year and is ranked among the top 10 percent of colleges in the nation for students graduating with the least amount of debt.

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