Each day my alarm went off at 7:30AM. I headed to McCrary dining hall for a nice breakfast and then to my lab. I met with my mentor to solidify the plan for the day, made some notes in my research notebook, and then got to work checking algae cultures in temperature chambers, transferring cultures, harvesting for cellular nutrient data, measuring growth rates, and making nutrient sea water media.
My project was focused on short-term acclimation of the phytoplankton species Thalassiosira Pseudanana to new temperature environments. The phytoplankton cultures I used were from lines experimentally evolved to different temperatures over several years by my mentor. I wanted to examine how certain temperature-dependent physiological traits of the algae changed during acclimation. The study involved the upkeep and sampling of up to forty eight cultures at a time, which was a laborious daily task.
After my work in the lab was finished I walked across the beautiful grounds of KBS from the academic building to the beach volleyball courts for the biweekly volleyball games. Sweaty after the game, we all jumped into Gull Lake for a refreshing swim before heading to dinner at the conference center. Even as a vegetarian, there were always nutritious dinner options. My friends and I often headed down a wooden stairway from the undergraduate apartments to the dock on the lake to hangout and watch the sunset; the perfect ending to a perfect day.
My Undergraduate Research Experience
I applied for the Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) because I wanted a quality experience conducting independent ecology research in an environment that values undergraduate work and offers opportunities for field and lab work.
My goals included becoming more independent in every facet of research, from creating an experiment to conducting lab work. I wanted to learn new ecological theory and laboratory techniques that would stay with me throughout my scientific career. I also hoped to network and make professional connections.
Being from Beloit College, a smaller liberal arts college in Wisconsin, I was nervous to work for a large research university like Michigan State University. However I knew KBS was a smaller community and so was hoping that would make it a more supportive environment. I had seen pictures of KBS on their website and knew it would be a beautiful place to spend the summer. I expected to learn about research, ecology, and the graduate school process.
Essential people in shaping my successful experience at KBS included my mentor, PhD student Danny O’Donnell, principal investigator Dr. Elena Litchman, and my fellow lab members. My mentor was extremely supportive and understanding throughout the summer and shared so much knowledge with me. He guided me through the research process while encouraging my independence, and was always accessible and helpful.
The lab worked as a supportive team and I was excited to come to work every day because of that environment. Summer program coordinator Dr. Danielle Zoellner was also helpful and cared about the well-being of the undergraduates at KBS. My roommate and other undergraduates formed my summer family; I will never forget not only my academically enriching summer at KBS, but also the many friendships and connections I formed there.
My summer at KBS was one of the best summers of my life, and I say that quite honestly and humbly. I learned how to overcome challenges in research and life. My project suffered a serious setback out of my control that resulted in me restarting the whole study. However, with the help of my mentor and labmates, we persevered and came up with valuable results. I plan on staying in touch with my mentor in the event that my work will be published in his dissertation or a journal article. I am extremely thankful for my time at KBS and would highly recommend it to future students as a place to work, live, and experience. I will always remember the people, the research experience, and especially the Gull Lake sunsets.
Clare Harper was an REU in the Litchman lab during the summer of 2016. She is a senior at Beloit College studying Biochemistry.