From Penn State to Pullman, plant biology is root for WSU professors

Couple moved separately from United Kingdom, met while doing post-doctoral research



Plant biologists Andrew McCubbin and Sian Ritchie, pictured here, moved to Pullman in 2001. They are both faculty in WSU’s School of Biological Sciences.

ALEXANDRIA OSBORNE, Evergreen reporter

Plant biology was the factor that lured two WSU faculty members all the way from across the pond to Pullman, with a stop in between.

Andrew McCubbin, associate professor in WSU’s School of Biological Sciences, and his wife Sian Ritchie, SBS clinical assistant professor, are both plant biologists at WSU. 

McCubbin said he started showing interest in the discipline when he was 13. 

“For me, it was hearing about the development of high yielding lines in the green revolution,” he said, “ironically in a geography class.” 

The couple is originally from the United Kingdom, but came to the U.S. in the mid-90s and lived near The Pennsylvania State University, McCubbin said. He moved to the U.S. in February 1994, while Ritchie moved in March 1995.

One of the faculty …  knew I was at Penn State when Sian got her position there a year later and suggested she [look] me up when she got there,” he said.

McCubbin said he met Ritchie at Penn State, but the two traveled separately and worked in different labs. They were both doing their post-doctoral research at the time, and they earned their doctorates at the university. 

They ended up moving to Pullman in 2001, he said. 

McCubbin said they did not want to end up in the South and wanted to be at a state with a coastline when moving around.

We had enjoyed living in Penn State. It’s quite similar to Pullman, in a way,” he said. “[Penn State is] midway between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, but it’s a small college town.”

Ritchie said the outdoor aspect of Pullman drew their attention to the town as well. 

“There’s Rockies nearby and Oregon, so the geographic locations [were nice],” she said. “And WSU … really is well known for its plant biology.”

Ritchie said she enjoys working with plants because they are interesting but underestimated as well. 

“People think they just kind of sit there and do photosynthesis and that’s it,” she said. “But they have all this interaction with the environment and other organisms that we don’t necessarily appreciate until you dig into it and realize just how cool they are.”

The couple has two sons, Ritchie said. They did not push science on their sons too much, but the family would regularly talk about the subject at the dinner table.

“They’re both heavily into music and things as well,” McCubbin said. “We’re enthusiastic about science, and that probably had an influence on them.”

Ritchie said their sons work hard on their schoolwork and do well in all areas.

“The older one is not so biology oriented; he’s doing physics,” she said. “He likes science, but biology is too messy.”