January 29, 2023

Constance Bolte’s love of learning brought her back to Virginia Commonwealth University as a graduate student in 2017 and earned her a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Penn State.

Bolte has a long history at VCU. She received her bachelor’s degree in biology from the College of Humanities and Sciences in 2004 and her master’s degree in teaching from the School of Education in 2005. She then spent nearly a decade in the classroom teaching biology and environmental studies in high school.

She loved teaching and being in the classroom. She enjoyed working with her students and seeing how amazed they were about science.

But she always had this nagging feeling that she needed to go back to school. Bolte watched her students do hands-on projects and knew she wasn’t done learning.

“I thought, ‘I want to go back to being a student and develop myself,'” Bolte said.

In June, Bolte defended her dissertation and earned her Ph.D. from the VCU in Integrative Life Sciences from the VCU Life Sciences. She chose integrative life sciences because it gave her more flexibility in her field of study. She could mix biology, ecology and forestry. She relocated to Pennsylvania for postdoctoral work, but plans to return to Richmond for the graduation ceremony in December.

Bolte studied with Andrew J. Eckert, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Biology, a leader in forest genetics.

“He was trained by the best,” said Bolte.

Her dissertation dealt with the possible effects of climate change on pine trees.

“I’ve always loved spending time in the forest and admiring trees for the seasonal changes they endure through evolution,” Bolte said. “During my teaching I became more and more curious about the evolutionary history of forest trees and how climate has affected and will affect forest structure and diversity.”

She is incredibly proud of her work at VCU and appreciates the opportunities working in Eckert’s lab has given her. She said he has helped his graduate students find work in academia in the past.

Bolte was recruited by Penn State for the postdoctoral position.

“Getting my PhD is more than just reaching an academic milestone,” said Bolte. “It confirms for me that passion, drive, flexibility and commitment are the keys to achieving any goal. My family knows how hard I’ve worked over the past five years, especially during the pandemic.”

Bolte has given a few guest lectures at Penn State, but the focus of the next two years will be research. Still, she reckons her career will eventually take her to the top of a classroom again.

“(Teaching) is my comfort zone,” Bolte said. “I love just talking about science.”

Bolte said it still felt strange that she could call herself a doctor, but she believed next month’s graduation ceremonies would help crystallize her accomplishment.

“When I walk across the stage, I feel like that’s the moment I realize I’m a doctor,” said Bolte. “I look forward to that feeling.”