MSU senior selected for elite research internship in Tokyo

Contact: Sarah Nicholas

Sara Tyrrell (Photo by Beth Wynn)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—A Mississippi State University senior biological sciences and Asian studies double-major will use her skills in each subject area this summer during a selective internship through the University of Tokyo Research Internship Program.        

Sara H. Tyrrell of North Augusta, South Carolina, leaves June 11 for a five-week internship under the direction of Hirokazu Tsukaya, a Department of Biological Sciences faculty member at the University of Tokyo.

Tyrrell is one of only 20 students selected from an international pool of more than 600 UTRIP applicants.  

“I couldn’t believe it when I got the e-mail,” Tyrrell said. “The University of Tokyo is so highly acclaimed. Going to graduate school in Japan has been my dream for a while now.”

At the University of Tokyo, Tsukaya researches mechanisms of leaf morphogenesis and the biodiversity of leaf forms, a topic Tyrrell would like to continue studying after college.

“I want to research how to make crops more resistant to climate change, climate-related disasters, pests and diseases, and/or develop agricultural methods that are environmentally sustainable,” Tyrrell said, adding that she also would like to research how to increase yield and nutritional value. “Basically, I want to work with other scientists on realistic solutions for mitigating the climate-related global food shortages of the future.”

Last year, Tyrrell joined the lab of MSU assistant professor of biological sciences Ying Wang to learn more about biological sciences research.  Wang said Tyrrell has wanted the University of Tokyo internship for a long time and worked very hard to prepare her scientific knowledge and Japanese language skills.

“She excels not only in the classroom, but also in laboratory research,” Wang said.

The University of Tokyo is the “best university in Japan and one of the leading universities in Asia,” Wang said of the institution that ranks among the top 40 in the world.

“There are 16 Nobel laureates affiliated with the university, demonstrating their research strength,” Wang said. “It has a unique cultural environment that will provide valuable experiences for Sara to have a successful career in STEM-related fields.”

Through the internship, Tyrrell said she hopes to “get my foot in the door for graduate school abroad”—preferably at the same institution, in part because she speaks Japanese.

Tyrrell has taken eight semesters of the language with Fumiko Joo, an MSU assistant professor in the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures. 

“She’s a fantastic teacher. She has been helping me with things like the nuances of how to be respectful and teaching me vocabulary she thinks will be helpful in the lab. I’m not fluent yet, but I’m hoping my time there will sharpen my skills,” Tyrrell said.

Joo said Asian studies is an excellent gateway to the world for MSU students.

“A wide range of industries, from manufacturing to information technology, in Asian countries shows a strong desire to hire American graduates who have an understanding of Asian cultures and fluency in Asian languages,” Joo said.

“Sara has been seeking a chance to combine her interests in Japanese language and culture with biology, and UTRIP is exactly the chance,” Joo said. “No doubt that this will be a great asset for her future career.”

MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences includes more than 5,300 students, 300 full-time faculty members, nine doctoral programs and 25 academic majors offered in 14 departments. Complete details about the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Biological Sciences or the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures may be found at, or

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