Passion for bees inspires research

Posted on Jan 25, 2013 in Alumni News and News

profile_marla_spivakMarla Spivak, g’89, was 18, a student at Prescott College in Arizona, when she fell in love with honeybees. She found a bee book written by a naturalist back in the 1940’s and stayed up all night reading. In the morning, she marched into her adviser’s office and declared she had to see the inside of a beehive. The advisor found a New Mexico keeper who took her on, and Spivak spent a semester learning the ins-and-outs of a commercial bee operation.

In 2010, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation named Spivak a MacArthur Fellow, a distinction that includes a $500,000 grant. The no-strings-attached award enables Spivak, McKnight Distinguished Professor in entomology at the University of Minnesota and an international leader on honeybee research, to pursue some “wild ideas” she has been entertaining.

For a scientist whose research approach colleagues and students describe as quiet but inventive, the high profile that comes with winning a so-called “genius grant” has been disruptive. “That’s been the worst part,” she says of the genius tag. “A genius? No, I’m not a genius.” Instead Spivak says, she’s a person who found herself in a system–academia–where things are usually done a certain way, and out of necessity she has to carve out a different way.

–Adapted from story in Kansas Alumni magazine, No. 1, 2011, written by Steven Hill

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