The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Zhian Kamvar Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

June 19, 2015


Zhian Kamvar was born in 1984 in Santa Clara, California, and grew up in nearby Cupertino. Kavmar's interest in science was sparked in 7th grade and from then on he harbored an ambition to pursue it as a career. His experiences at a small private high school, Palo Alto Prep, influenced his choice of college, and in 2003 Kavmar moved east to begin his undergraduate studies at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.

At Truman State, Kavmar studied biology - a decision that he made after completing a particularly influential genetics class - and in 2005 he began working as an undergraduate research assistant in a genetics lab. Kavmar was also heavily involved with the Truman State student radio station. Over the course of three years, Kamvar hosted music shows and collaborative programs, and spent one summer as station manager. He graduated in December 2007 with a bachelor's of science degree in biology.

After graduation, Kavmar traveled to South Korea, where he worked as an English instructor. He ultimately spent three years living in Daegu, a large city in the southern part of the country, learned to speak Korean and met the woman who would become his wife.

Kavmar returned to the United States in 2011 and, that fall, enrolled as a Ph.D. student in the Oregon State University Department of Botany and Plant Pathology. He spent his first four months at OSU working in the laboratory of Pankaj Jaiswal, researching systems biology in crop plants.

In January 2012, Kamvar rotated into Niklaus Grunwald's lab, one that was focused on the epidemiology, genetics, and evolution of exotic and reemerging Phytophthora species, a group of highly destructive plant pathogens that affect agricultural and forest crops. As a member of the Grunwald lab, Kamvar has pursued research on molecular biology, bioinformatics, computational biology, genetics, genomics, genetic analysis, and R programming. In June 2015, he authored a research paper that was chosen by the journal PeerJ as being among the year's top bioinformatics publications.

Along with switching labs, in 2012 Kavmar also began working for OSU's student radio station, KVBR-FM, co-founding a talk show titled Inspiration Dissemination that he hosted alongside Joey Hulbert, a fellow graduate student. On the show, the two would interview an OSU graduate student about their research and personal journey through grad school. The ambition of the show, which is still being broadcast, is to inspire undergraduates to continue their studies in grad school and to provide the show's grad students guests with a measure of experience being interviewed and explaining their research to a general audience.

Inspiration Dissemination has turned out to be very popular, and in 2014 it received the Most Innovative Radio Program Award at the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System Conference. That spring, Hulbert graduated and moved to South Africa to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Pretoria. Kavmar continues to host the show with a group of newer co-hosts.