Describe the steps you took to obtain your internship/research opportunity/fellowship.
During my sophomore year, a graduate student spoke during my marine biology lecture about her research and experience as a doctoral student. Completely enthralled by her innovative research using 3D technology in coral restoration, I found her at the end of the lecture and asked her anything I could do to get involved in what she did for research. Not having much additional work at the time, she simply agreed to meet with me and discuss some areas of interest she would like to pursue but did not have the time for. She sent me a few research papers to look into, and I immediately began developing ideas for potential research projects. After a few months of additional research, she got me connected with her advisor, Dr. Brooke, who happened to need help on a project in-line with my research idea. Given that I would be of help to her own research as I was able to pursue my own project idea, she agreed to supervise my project as an honors thesis over the following year and a half.
How far in advance did you prepare and begin applying for your experiential learning opportunity?
The process of coming up with an honors thesis and getting everything and everyone in line for it to work was definitely a time-intensive undertaking. The process of getting into a lab and coming up with my own project wasn't necessarily a clear cut series of deadlines, but more so a constant series of efforts to build my connection with both my advisor, Dr. Brooke, and research partner, Abbey Engleman, the graduate student who first inspired me to begin research in this field. The more I was able to meet and connect with them, the more I understood about the things I could feasibly undertake on my own. This process of building my project and connecting with faculty and students in my current lab took about 8 months of communication to confidently begin my project in the prospectus semester.
If you used any Career Center services, resources, or events to obtain your job offer, what were they? How did they support your application process?
The Career Center played both a direct and indirect role in allowing me to take full advantage of this research opportunity. The Career Center Internship Fund played an essential role in allowing me to fully immerse myself in my research this summer. Working with marine fieldwork, my progress moving forward relies heavily on being able to take advantage of ample weather conditions. If weather conditions are even slightly less than optimal, we often have to call off a day's work, since it can be dangerous to work in an underwater setting with limited visibility and additional dangers caused by weather. With the Internship Fund, I was also able to explore several different complex avenues to amplify the extent of my research, learning professional 3D printing and photogrammetry software that has helped me immensely in my data analysis.
The Career Center has also played a large role in making the most of my career-related experiences after the fact. I have gone to the Career Center countless times to build and perfect my resume, and the additional feedback has been critical in representing my experiences professionally. I am also a part of the Garnet & Gold Scholar Society and participant in several Experiential Recognition Programs. I find that these programs force me to form concrete takeaways from my experiences, making it much easier to illustrate these takeaways in future applications.
Describe some of your responsibilities or duties during your experiential learning opportunity.
As an honors thesis student, I hold several roles within my lab to make the most of my experience and be the most help to those around me. Playing an integrated role in a research team, I often help with the projects of other students in my lab, oftentimes called out in the field to assist with research tasks for that day. Working with a dynamic team, my advisor often asks me or other students with specific skill sets to work together on specialized tasks. For example, I am experienced and familiar with underwater photography, so my advisor enlists me with the task to document unique species at each research site. Working with a research team has been a very cool experience, to know that I can work towards my own research goal independently, while each of us helps one another to reach their own goals.
What was a typical day like "on the job?"
As an undergraduate researcher, there is no typical day "on the job," but there is a fairly simple process that has taken place over the past 6 months. Generally, my role as an honors thesis student has been to make progress on my own project, while making myself available to help with other projects within the lab as much as possible. The first semester consisted of a large planning period for the methodology of my project, and the second semester consisted of fieldwork, data collection, and a great deal of trial and error with data analysis. Working with the fairly new and technologically advanced concept of underwater 3D reconstruction, trial and error for accurate and efficient methods for this process has taken up a great deal of my time this summer. Between days in the field, I spent my time in the lab experimenting with programs such as Agisoft Photoscan, ArcGIS, and AutoCAD, to discover the most efficient method for processing my data.
What are some major takeaways from your experience? How will these help prepare you for the next step after graduation?
My biggest takeaway from this experience has been the immense importance of proactive planning in research methodology design. I think that before this experience, I was significantly unaware of the limitations of marine research. Without direct experience underwater and in the lab, I did not have a complete grasp of the limitations that are very common underwater and in technology. The process of coming up with these grand expectations, and falling short of them in the field and in the lab has been essential in shaping my skill set as an effective and impactful research professional. Without the experience of directly encountering these unexpected limitations in the field and lab, I would have never fully grasped some of the most common limitations in marine research.
Did this experience help clarify your career path? If yes, how so?
This experience has provided me with direct exposure to help me confirm that a career in marine research and conservation is exactly what I want to do in the future. Undertaking an honors thesis has been difficult, frustrating, and extremely time-intensive, and I have still loved every second of it. Each setback drives me to pursue a new path with even more motivation, and answering my research question has forced me to think critically like never before. I also realized that the incredible thing about research is that you can pursue absolutely anything your heart desires, and there is no clear cut path to get to that answer.
I originally applied to FSU as an engineering student, with an aspiration to invent innovative solutions to environmental problems in the ocean. After learning more about the day-to-day life of an environmental engineer, I eventually dropped the major and switched to biology. For my current research, I am able to pursue the intersection of my passions for marine biology, innovation, and community engagement all at the same time. The fact that I am able to make a difference in the world while pursuing each of my unique passions gives me the intense motivation to pursue it further in grad school.
"This experience has provided me with direct exposure to help me confirm that a career in marine research and conservation is exactly what I want to do in the future."
Major: Biology, Environment & Society, Class of 2020
Company/Organization: Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory