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MSUM Student takes his passion for fish all the way to first place

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a German philosopher once said, “Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.” A MSUM student has taken his passion and is on the road to accomplishing goals most scientists his age dream about.

In his homeland of Jakarta, Indonesia, Randy Sutrisno has had an intense passion for fish since the age of 5.

Randy Sutrisno

“I have 12 aquariums at home in Indonesia, but unfortunately I only can fit one in my dorm room,” Sutrisno said.

But for Sutrisno, his aquariums aren’t just pretty to look at. His true love comes from breeding fish.

When it came time for this fish fanatic to obtain his college education, Sutrisno chose to leave Jakarta and his twelve aquariums filled with hundreds of fish to study abroad. He believed leaving home to pursue his education would bring him an advantage to greater job opportunities after college.

While researching different possible universities, Randy found that MSUM had something to set it apart from others; a potential mentor with a similar passion to his own.

“Dr. Brian Wisenden is one of the reasons I came to MSUM.”

Professor Wisenden teaches in the Biosciences Department at MSUM. He specializes in the behavioral ecology of fish, which appealed immensely to a fish enthusiast like Sutrisno.

As a freshman in the fall of 2009, Sutrisno immediately sought out who he referred to as the “go-to fish guy,” Wisenden. The anticipation and excitement to meet one another seemed to be mutual according to the professor.

“I’m so happy to meet people like Randy. You know with gardening how some people can have a ‘green thumb’ well, Randy has a ‘wet thumb.’ There have only been a handful of students with the same passion for fish and he’s one of them.”

Wisenden said at times, the student became the teacher. “His life circumstances in Indonesia have allowed him to gain all kinds of experience. He breeds things that I never knew about. I can talk to Randy as a peer, and learn things from him.”

While at MSUM, Sutrisno decided to focus his research on different species of Betta fish, in particular the “Betta burdigala.” Sutrisno explains that’s one species of Betta where the males won’t kill each other when in the same tank. This species was crucial to find because Randy’s research would require two males to be in the same tank at the same time.

When Sutrisno was asked to summarize the purpose of his research, he paused and laughed. “Well it’s really hard to explain in few words, but basically I’m studying the behavior patterns between the mating female and mating male when there’s another fish in the tank and how that will affect the amount of babies they produce.”

In order to conduct these experiments, Sutrisno found a way to import the fish from his homeland in Jakarta because he found it was cheaper than buying the fish in the United States.

“A pair of these fish costs around $15, but if I got them in the United States they would cost around $45 dollars a pair,” Sutrisno said.

With the amount of fish Sutrisno needed for his research, importing them was the reasonable option. So exactly how many fish has Sutrisno brought across the ocean and all the way to MSUM? “I’ve ordered fish on two different occasions and all together have probably bought 40 pairs.” Approximately $600 later, and Sutrisno was researching his heart out.

Thanks to Wisenden, his in depth research was soon to be on display at NDSU.

NDSU’s Environmental and Conservation Sciences department puts on a “Recruiting Fair Poster Session” where graduate and undergrad students can not only present their research, but it also offers an opportunity for the faculty to meet potential students for NDSU’s graduate school. Wisenden makes sure to sign up all of his research students so they can put their hard work on display.

The poster Sutrisno presented on his Betta research took first place, which came as quite a shock.

“I was very surprised to find out I won,” Sutrisno said.

He walked away with prize money in the form of $150 which surprisingly Sutrisno says isn’t going towards the purchasing of more fish.

“I think I’ll do the smart thing and save the money for now,” he said.

Although it was encouraging receiving first place, Sutrisno has his heart set on an even greater goal: to have his research published in a scientific journal. For those not familiar with science terms, a “journal” is a series of scientific research reports written in a very stylized format. According to Wisenden, it’s a way of communicating in the science world.

“Publicized journals are how scientists review their findings to other scientists. Getting a publication is a big deal anytime in a scientist’s career. For an undergrad to get even one is very unusual,” Wisenden said.

Wisenden has been a part of more than 50 publications, many of which have had undergraduate co-authors. Sutrisno has already assisted in writing one journal, but he is anxious for the day when his masses of Betta fish research can be transformed into a publication he can call his own.

After he graduates, Sutrisno says he’s unsure about what his future holds, but he could definitely see himself returning to his 12 aquariums in Jakarta. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Sutrisno laughs and says, “I want to own my own zoo, not your conventional zoo though, a zoo for freshwater fish and amphibians because I think they are kind of overlooked.”

Although Sutrisno modestly chuckled when speaking about his big zoo dream, Wisenden has confidence that Sutrisno will allow his love of fish to lead him to great accomplishments.

“A lot of people are in biology to see where it leads them, but he already knows where he wants to go, and that’s one thing that sets him apart,”  Wisenden said. “He has the gift of passion and that will carry him to success in life.”


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