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Dianella Howarth, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

Biology Professor Values “Magical Moments” in the Classroom

Dianella Howarth, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, is always on the go. A winner of two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants in as many years for her work on plant development, she is hard at work on yet another NSF grant application.

“I was going to take a break (from grant submissions), but then one of my post-docs had a great project idea, so we sent a pre-proposal to NSF,” said Howarth. “I keep going forward with my research, because it’s important to me to figure out how certain plants work before we lose them to extinction.”

In 2011, Howarth won an NSF grant of $550,000 for her abstract, “The Role of Gene Duplication in the Floral Symmetry Pathway in Dipsacales.” In 2012, she collaborated with Rachel Jabaily, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Rhodes College, and was awarded a three-year NSF grant for research on the evolutionary history of the Australian plant family Goodeniaceae. Howarth’s portion of the grant totaled $225,000. “Next summer,” she said, “we’ll be traveling down under to study Goodeniaceae in its native soil. I can’t wait to go.”

One of the keys to her success, said Howarth, is having an incredibly supportive environment in which to teach and conduct research. “At St. John’s, people are genuinely happy for you when you do well,” she noted. “I’ve found more collegial support here than at any other university. It makes coming to work a joy.”

When she’s not busy drafting grant proposals, Howarth can be found sharing her love of biology with her students, who range from freshmen to post-doctoral. “One of the things I love about St. John’s is that the students aren’t inhibited with their questions,” she said. “Even in the big lecture courses, we get such great discussions going that it becomes more of a dialog. Those moments when you really engage the students are pretty magical.”

Howarth expects to hear back from NSF shortly regarding her pre-proposal. “Last time, only 20 percent of the applicants were invited to submit a full proposal, and only 20 percent of those applicants were awarded a grant,” she said. “It’s a huge honor to have your work selected.”