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Outstanding undergraduate researches microbiome of black widow spiders at West campus

Hasti Asrari smiling and wearing a graduation cap in front of a building.

Named Outstanding Graduate for the fall 2022 semester, Hasti Asrari graduated from ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a bachelor's degree in biology and two certificates in biomedical research and computational life sciences. Photo courtesy ASU

February 02, 2023

For recent Arizona State University graduate Hasti Asrari, her happy place is in the lab. 

“Walking into lab every day, sometimes you take it for granted. I made sure that I enjoyed every second of it because I knew when I came in as a freshman I had this sparkle in my eye and this really big dream,” Asrari said.

Asrari knew that she wanted to pursue a life in the sciences early on. She fondly remembers spending hours when she was young watching space and science documentaries on National Geographic and PBS NOVA. It was the documentaries she watched and a high school biology class that piqued her interest in research.

“I realized that I loved research,” Asrari said. “I loved the opportunity to discover and the ability to explore different areas of science and apply it on a wider scale.”

As she worked toward completing her undergraduate degree in biology at ASU’s West campus, she spent most of her time in Associate Professor Chad Johnson’s Black Widow Lab studying the microbiome of black widow spiders. Over time, her fascination with spiders only grew, which led her to focus on the bacterial life across habitats of black widows for her honors thesis project.

In addition to her work on black widows, Asrari also worked with New College Dean Todd Sandrin to apply bioinformatics tools to microbiome research.

In the fall, Asrari graduated from ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a bachelor's degree in biology and two certificates in biomedical research and computational life sciences. She was recognized as New College's Outstanding Undergraduate for the fall 2022 semester. Here, she shares more about her experiences at ASU and what’s next for her.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I actually applied to a couple of schools when I was in high school. I wanted to branch out and see what's out there. I applied to Stanford, Duke, USC and other schools all over the United States. ASU was one that was close to home, and it was a place that I was familiar with. ASU also provided financial aid that none of the other schools were providing. I come from a low-income family, and so really, the financial aid that ASU provided was really what drew me to the university, along with the university’s reputation for research. … I heard that ASU was a big public research institution, and research was something I was very excited to pursue.

Q: What’s something you learned while at New College — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I wasn't expecting that coming to New College would allow me to be in a close-knit classroom community where I would actually be able to interact with the faculty on campus, go to their office hours and have one-on-one connections. … I was very pleasantly surprised. I feel like every one of them have a unique trait that distinguishes them from each other but makes every single one of them very special.

Q: Did you experience any obstacles along your way? If yes, how did you overcome them?

A: When I first came in as a freshman, an obstacle I was faced with was imposter syndrome. … I was getting it into my head that I wasn't capable of starting early and getting into research as a first-year student. But I had to just put myself out there to pursue research and ask questions. I really surprised myself when I was able to overcome that obstacle because it does take a lot of bravery, and it takes really going out of your comfort zone to do that. Also, being a biology major, there are some challenging courses to take and you are digging into some pretty complex topics that you've probably never heard of before. So finding my study habits and getting my time-management skills in order was also an obstacle that I had to face, but one that I was able to overcome.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Don't be afraid of the endless possibilities that you can get from putting yourself out there and exploring your passion. I came in not knowing the specific area of research I wanted to get into. ... Meeting with professors one on one is intimidating. Taking that initiative and just doing it and seeing what happens can really surprise you. You really gain a level of trust in yourself, a level of confidence in your abilities, as well as wonderful experiences and connections.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Next year, in the fall, I plan to pursue a PhD in microbiology, and throughout that experience, I hope to dive deeper into a research area, especially in microbiome science, and become more and more of an expert in it because it’s a field I love. Going out of graduate school, I plan to either get into industry or academia, depending on where the opportunities are and where life takes me. I really want to make a difference and apply my research to climate change initiatives and any initiatives that will help the world and the many crises that may be going on. I hope to use science as a way to mitigate concerns, especially future concerns that society has.

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