Below is a guest post from Serena Hackerott, an undergraduate in my lab.
After 103 lionfish, 186 otoliths, 5 weeks of field work, and 3 weeks of lab work, I feel like I have become a “real Marine Biologist.” As the girl who has always loved the ocean and wanted to be a marine biologist “when she grew up”, this summer has been such an awesome experience. The work is far from over when it comes to analyzing the data I have collected, but I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the less tangible things I brought back with me from the Caribbean.
One of the most beneficial aspects of my summer research project was joining the Bruno lab in the field. Of course the organization of my independent project was extremely important, but the experience I gained from watching Dr. Bruno and his graduate students in the field is invaluable. On one especially trying day in the Bahamas, Abel, one of the graduate students, turned to Katie and me and said, “As a marine biologist, always remember, anything that can go wrong in the field, will.” We soon learned that he did not mean this in the literal and pessimistic sense, but more as a warning to always be prepared for anything.
As a lab, we found this to be true on many occasions throughout both trips, but instead of “set-backs” or “a change of plans,” we preferred the term “adventures.” Whether we were chasing the tank compressor around the islands of Belize, or looking around the entire island of Abaco to find an available boat, it was all just another part of the experience. I watched the graduate students, especially Courtney and Abel, deal with these situations so gracefully that I found myself adopting the same outlook. After this summer, I am much more confident in my ability to handle the trials of field work in my own future projects.
Not only has this summer taught me about marine science research, but I have also learned important lessons about staying persistent and confident to achieve my goals. This experience has helped me begin my transition from a student who follows instructions, to a scientist who has opinions and makes decisions. I learned to balance between taking the lead when it came to my project and asking for help when I needed it. This will help me greatly as I begin the next step in my education through graduate school. Looking back, persistence and confidence were the most important qualities I used to begin this adventure and they are also what I would suggest for other undergraduates to focus on when first pursuing research opportunities. Yes, you might have professors tell you that they don’t have room in their labs, and yes, you might have to email professors, approach them after class, and wait for them during office hours to even have a chance to ask about research, but if you work hard and stay positive, you might just get to have a summer as amazing as mine!