Profiles in Diversity: Sujaya Rao

Professor and Department Head

Sujaya Rao

Sujaya (she, her, hers) was born in Bombay (Mumbai) in India. She is the second child in a family of four girls. She attended Irish missionary convent schools and grew up in four towns in India: Simla, Madras (Chennai), Delhi, and Bangalore. She obtained her undergraduate and master’s degrees in zoology at Delhi University. It was during her master’s degree that she first encountered entomology - students had to specialize in a branch of zoology, and she chose entomology. Her excitement for entomology was sparked by an insect collecting field trip in East India, during which she spent quite some time chasing a cicada; she did not catch the cicada, but she caught the entomology bug!

After completing her master’s degree, Sujaya taught undergraduate zoology at Delhi University. She then worked at a plant quarantine research laboratory (National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources) where she compiled a catalogue of bruchid seed pests; subsequently she conducted research on pest management of ornamental and medicinal plants at the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research in Bangalore. Sujaya joined Richard Jones’ lab at the University of Minnesota to pursue a PhD in entomology, during which she investigated the attraction of Macrocentris grandii, a braconid parasitoid of the European corn borer, to plant volatiles. She had two postdoctoral positions, first at the University of Delaware where she examined chemical cues that drew European corn borer females to host plants, and then at UC Berkeley where she evaluated biological control of the western tarnished plant bug in strawberries with inundative releases of a mymarid, Anaphes iole.

Sujaya worked as the strawberry Extension Adviser for UC Cooperative Extension before being hired as a faculty member at Oregon State University to work on pest management of grass seed crops. Her serendipitous observation that a particular blue trap did not capture the pest but drew an extraordinary diversity and abundance of native bees led to her expanding her research to bees as well. She took on numerous leadership roles including directing NSF funded GK-12 and REU, and other student-centric programs. These led to her interest in applying for the position of head of the department of entomology at the University of Minnesota, where she was selected as the first alum, first woman, and first person of color for the role. Currently, besides leading the department, she is engaged in teaching courses, and in promoting entomophagy, the practice of humans eating insects as food. 

Throughout her career, every position has had opportunities and challenges; what has been exciting about each one was learning something new! Sujaya is very passionate about entomology and had this to say about it: “When you enjoy what you do, there is no boundary between work and fun”. 

Sujaya’s contact info:

March 23, 2021

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