Reflections From the Field

Reflections From the Field

Bethany Williams

As I’m wrapping up the final months of my PhD (wow!), I’ve been feeling very sentimental about the three summers I spent in the field. Lake Nabugabo, Uganda was my home for almost five months across 2018, 2019, and 2022. I spent hours by the swamps and rivers, and cruising across the lake catching my favorite haplochromine cichlid,  Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor. This amazing fish is unperturbed by extreme environmental conditions like severe hypoxia and is found across the Nile River basin. P. multicolor was the superstar of my dissertation research on the effects of multiple stressors on reproductive physiology and behavior. Now the science may be what takes us to the field, but I have to admit, the people are what made it fun!

When I look back at my time in Uganda, I will remember the science, the safaris, and the snake that almost fell on my head (true story). But I will also remember the people I worked with over my three field seasons there.  Some of my favorite memories are eating dinner together under the light of the stars and the Milky Way—sunset comes early at the equator. At those dinners, we would chat, watch movies, and get caught up on the day’s vervet gossip. Those monkeys are pretty cute, but one stole a chapati out of my hand in 2018, so I still have my reservations on them (never forgive, never forget). The 2022 summer field crew must hold world records for the longest game of pool and the number of goats chased out of a field station. In the months I spent on station, we celebrated birthdays, did yoga in front of the lake (to the alarm of the vervets), ate our weight in chapatis and rice, went for swims in the lake, walked through the village, and generally lived a life that few  people get to experience.

The opportunity to do research in a foreign country, let alone a region of the world you have always dreamed of visiting, is an incredible privilege. If I have learned anything during my PhD, it is that I’ve been incredibly lucky to conduct my research in Uganda. The local field assistants kept us safe, taught us about the lake, the language, and the culture. They pointed out which ants would bite and which catfish had venomous spines. While waiting on our minnow traps, we swapped stories and shared snacks (ginger biscuits, g-nuts, fresh jackfruit, and sugar cane come to mind). We talked about music: Carrie Underwood and Justin Bieber were both surprise hits among the field assistants. They made our work possible. To put is simply: Mutebi, Kiberu, Sseggoya, and Geoffrey—Mwebale nnyo (“Thank you”).

Now the theme of this blog post is nostalgia, but it would be wrong to not at least give a mention to the tough parts. A lack of running water, refrigeration, and reliable electricity combined with long days, homesickness, scary insects, venomous snakes, and navigating language and cultural barriers can be exhausting. Safety first, science second! We have to take the good with the bad, but at least in the case of field work, there is plenty of good to go around!

It is a rare thing to realize how lucky you are in the moment. But that is what my experience doing field work in Uganda gave me. It was in the mornings on station when I would watch the sun rise over the lake, a cup of tea in my hand, while monkeys played quietly around me. The moments in the field when we would find a chameleon or a frog and suddenly become kids again. The mornings in the village when I would go for a run and suddenly be in a race with giggling children on their way to school. The moment on safari when the driver stops alongside a lion. Teeth suddenly look so much larger and the safari van so much flimsier. You realize the world is more beautiful and dangerous and precious than you ever imagined. I could go on, but you get the idea…

So, whatever you do, wherever you go, have a sense of humor. If you’re doing field work in a foreign country, children will probably laugh at you (and you’ll probably deserve it). Have back up plans for when things don’t work. Be safe. And most importantly, enjoy yourself! One day before you know it, you’ll be like me, back in the lab, but wishing you were in the field.

My First Field Season at Stone Lab – Noel Schmitz

Over the summer, I completed my first field season for my thesis research at the OSU F.T. Stone Laboratory in Put-In-Bay. My research focused on the combined effects of hypoxia and temperature on the predator-prey interactions between Smallmouth Bass and invasive Round Goby in Lake Erie. I was super excited to finally begin the interaction experiments I started planning in the summer of 2021 with my advisors, Dr. Suzanne Gray and Dr. Lauren Pintor. I arrived to Stone Lab in mid-May of 2022 and to say I was surprised when I saw all the tourists would be an understatement. However, it was fun to see the town bustling with people and having them visit the Aquatic Visitors Center next door to Stone Lab.

I began my research by organizing and setting up my holding tanks in the wet lab. Then I was able to do the fun part: collect fish. We captured Smallmouth Bass via boat electrofishing, which was so cool to see all the huge bass surface in the bay. We also saw Longnose Gar and Bowfin surface. We went seining to capture Round Gobies, but we weren’t very successful in capturing them via this method. However, we did catch one Tubenose Goby, which was neat to see but that means their numbers are increasing in Lake Erie. We decided to pivot from seining and try old school fishing, and we caught a ton of gobies very quickly off the dock in front of the Aquatic Visitors Center. Some of the gobies people caught were much bigger than I thought possible. I didn’t think they grew much bigger than 5-6 inches, but they definitely do. I also learned that Smallmouth Bass love to eat mayflies, so when the mayflies started to emerge, we would catch some and feed them to the bass in the holding tanks. It was fun to see them jump out of the water to eat the mayflies. The best part was starting my trials and watching the bass search for the gobies. Some of the bass were very aggressive and would actually push the rocks around. However, the very aggressive bass gave us some issues and would try to jump out of the tank, so we had to improvise and cover it when the trial wasn’t active.

Despite all the work I had to do, I was still able to enjoy myself and have fun with the other students and staff on the island, which made the experience even better. I was able to play on the island softball team, visit Middle Bass Island and eat the best pizza, have bonfires, join the downtown festivities, and catch a personal best Smallmouth Bass. I have to give partial credit to my boyfriend in catching the bass because he is an avid fisherman and helped me land it. One thing I have definitely missed is watching the sunsets from Peach Point — they are absolutely gorgeous! All in all, it was so much fun to be able to spend the summer at Stone Lab while conducting my research. To say the least, I am definitely looking forward to going back this coming summer. Thank you to everyone who had a hand in making my first field season a success!


Meet our new Master’s Student – Victoria Drumm

My name is Victoria Drumm and I’m happy to introduce myself as the Gray Lab’s newest master’s student! I spent last semester familiarizing myself with the native fishes of Ohio in Dr. Gray’s Taxonomy and Behavior of Fishes class (highly recommend!), and am currently in the preparatory stages of my research exploring the impacts of intermittent artificial lighting at night (ALAN) on freshwater fishes.

Intermittent ALAN has attracted far less research attention than ALAN of continuous intensity, but represents the type of illumination emitted by passing road vehicles and other mobile light sources. This spring I’ll begin by studying how intermittent and continuous ALAN affect the foraging and antipredator behavior of Bluegill Sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) in conjunction with the presence or absence of their predators: Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides). I hope to determine how different patterns of ALAN exposure act on the trade-off between foraging and predator avoidance to better understand, and ideally mitigate, the ecological impacts of ALAN produced by roadways. Later in the year, I’ll also be conducting a complementary field study assessing how different intensities and patterns of roadway ALAN alter fish assemblages in rural streams, where, in the absence of other major infrastructural development, roadways may be a particularly significant source of light pollution. Very excited to get started on all of this in the coming months, and to share more of my progress going forward. Watch this space!

Looking down a fish ladder

I arrived at OSU from Connecticut, where I spent several seasons as a field assistant with the Diadromous Inland Fisheries Program of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). This program seeks to monitor and restore diadromous fish species, and we most frequently worked with Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus), American Shad (Alosa sapidissima), American Eel (Anguilla rostrata), Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), and Sea Lamprey (Petromyzon marinus).



Glass (juvenile) American Eels

While a couple of those names may strike fear into the hearts of Midwesterners, in their native ranges these species have undergone population declines due to a number of anthropogenic factors, with in-stream barriers high on the list. My position with DEEP involved monitoring fish ladders at dams throughout the state, transplanting fish from plentiful “donor” runs into streams whose runs we’d like to improve, and much more! It was an amazing, challenging experience that took me to some absolutely beautiful places, and wholeheartedly confirmed my desire to pursue a career in fisheries conservation. Here are some photos of our charming focal species!



Alewives trapped overnight at a fish ladder (only kept at this density for a few minutes to facilitate netting)
Alewives being stocked out to bolster a struggling run









Sea Lamprey and American Shad (background)
Down-migrating Silver (sexually mature) American Eel








2022 Highlights from The Gray Lab

With 2023 off to a great start, we wanted to look back on 2022. Here is a highlight from everyone for this past year!

Bethany: I ran my first 50k and am in the final stages of writing up my dissertation!

Jai: I passed my candidacy exams and got to start 2023 out hiking!

Noel: I completed my first field season at Stone Lab for my master’s research!

Victoria: I started my master’s this past fall, and am currently planning a project investigating how ALAN acts on the tradeoff between foraging and predator avoidance.

Amber: I had the chance to spend a lot of time outside doing field work for multiple classes!

Alex: Spending my summer at Stone Lab and getting involved with research.

Mike: I spent the summer working at Stone Lab assisting Noel in her smallmouth bass research and conducting a pilot study for my own research this upcoming summer.

Sarah Grace: Looking forward to starting Honors thesis project in 2023.

A moment captured from ENR 5350.02 Taxonomy and Behavior of Fish this past year (taught by our very own Dr. Gray)!


Slowly returning to “normal”

The last two years have been challenging for everyone and I am so proud of how our lab has risen to those challenges. We are sloooooowly getting back to “normal” this summer with fieldwork and fish. Bethany and Jai are in Uganda, Noel is at Stone Lab, and I’m still sitting in my basement office trying to keep it all together.

We’ll be trying to post more research news from now on so stay tuned!

Chelsey wins award!

Congratulations to Ph.D. student Chelsey Nieman on winning the Janice Lee Fenske Memorial Award for Outstanding Students! Also, a big congrats to masters student Tiffany Atkinson on being a finalist for the award as well! Keep up being outstanding students in fisheries, ladies!

2018 Highlights!

A list of every lab members 2018 highlight!

Tiffany: I completely finished collecting data for my Master’s thesis.

Rylie: My 2018 highlight is that I decided to start my own Research with Distinction project with the Gray Lab this year.

Richard: I secured my first publication looking at differences in behavioral responses between fish with different parental origin, and successfully defended my master’s thesis to graduate with a MS.

Bethany: Skipped my Master’s graduation ceremony and that same day hopped on a plane for Uganda to start my Ph.D.!

Chelsey: I published two papers on the effects of elevated turbidity on visual ecology of Lake Erie fish and also taught my very first aquatic ecology course.

Brynne: I furthered my passion for youth outreach and education by helping teach aquatic ecology to a variety of school groups.

Taylor: Being fortunate enough to have the opportunity to live in Columbus for the summer where I developed and carried out my first independent research project looking into sexual behavior in African cichlids.

Jeremy: I started my Master’s program at Ohio State University and completed my first field season and semester of course work.

Andy: I was fortunate enough to spend my summer studying how the vision of adult Walleye is effected by increasing turbidity concentrations on Lake Erie, with results indicating that algae may disrupt vision at a much lower level than suspended sediment.


Can’t wait to see what new publications, students and research will happen in 2019! Big things coming from the Gray Lab!

New Publication!

Congrats to our very own Chelsey Nieman and Suzanne Gray on their recent publication in The Journal of Fish Biology! Check out their paper on the effects of algal blooms and sediment plumes on the visual performance of Emerald Shiner and Walleye!