Sunday October 15, 2017

Finding My Place in Environmental Biology

It's my third year and I have finally settled down in an area of Biology that I (am pretty sure I) want to pursue.

When I tell people that I'm a biology major, for some reason they immediately assume that I plan to go to medical school.

However, broadening my horizons and exploring different disciplines in Biology has allowed me to better understand the different paths that I could take with my major. 

At the beginning of the semester, I started taking an Environmental Ecology course, instructed by Dr. Ryan McEwan, and I found the topic discussed there to be of great importance and very interesting. Having already taken an Environmental Ethics, I had already established a foundational background of current environmental issues and problem-solving skills form a philosophical perspective. This class is based on current environmental ecology issues and discussions and theories that foster problem solving from more of a practical biology perspective. It is a 400-level class that calls for and exercises a deeper understanding of the Earth as an ecosystem and the human dynamic of human interaction with the environment as a whole. 

Early on the class sparked a deep interest in me in ecology, as it forced me to recall some of the most interesting topics from my sophomore year Ecology class. Our readings for the class are based entirely on the new, cutting-edge research being done in Environmental Science, pushing each of us to not only understand the type of research being done currently but to also visualize the big picture of the most general topics in ecology. I realized that this was a pretty interesting subfield of biology, and as usual, I wanted to gain more insight into the topics that I was learning about. I finally asked Dr. McEwan, himself a research scientist, if he was offering any opportunities in his accomplished lab that I may be able to take advantage of. We sat down and discussed my career interests and goals and how I may be able to foster them through some of the projects that are currently active in his lab. These goal for me were being able to apply my skills in Computer Science to research and development of biological/environmental issues. We found that there were a number of ways for me to gain experience in a lab and doing field work by also using a programming language called R to take the biological data and use it to model the environmental data much better. 

From there, I started to attend weekly lab meetings where I had the opportunity to meet the current team of students working with Dr. McEwan--each had their own project interests, research areas, and levels of expertise to bring to a diverse, driven, and productive work environment. 

I soon met Corey, a fellow MyLife Blogger and project leader in the McEwan lab, and Julia Chapman, a Ph. D student in Dr. McEwan's lab and expert R programming who, upon learning my interests for learning about R and the environment, got me started on an NSF-funded project, where macroinvertebrate populations are being analyzed in relation to invasive honeysuckle populations. Currently, this is where most of my lab experience comes from as I become acquainted with a variety of projects that spark my interest in Environmental Biology. This is a great way for me to get ahead with hands-on data analysis skills and to work in a team-oriented environment. There is also great opportunity to present at Stander in the Spring and to also publish work in scientific, peer-reviewed journals--both crucial to my professional development path and major goals for my Junior and Senior year.

Overall, I'm glad I reached out to my professor and asked for the opportunity to join his lab. I'm confident that I'll be able to grow as a student and scholar as I work in such an inspiring and welcoming environment for developing priceless skills. My goals for the semester are to use the skills that I learn in this lab to apply to a certain intersnhip this summer that I am sure will be a grreat professional opportunity for me. I'm grateful for the path that I have been set on and can't wait to work harder this year!

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