STEP Reflection

For my research experience, I took a five-week Field Zoology course with a laboratory component at Stone Lab, located on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie. The main goal of the course was to collect, identify (down to at least order), preserve, and properly label 100 different  native or nonnative Lake Erie species from 12 different phyla and 50 different orders over the course of four weeks. Our class did just that, but we also learned about biological problems facing Lake Erie like the annual harmful algal blooms and invasive species like the round goby and zebra mussels, the geological history of Lake Erie including the Wisconsin glaciation about 20,000 years ago and glacial erratics, and we learned how biologists work in the field, from seining, to electro-fishing, to trawling. Stone Lab Field Zoology was an outstanding experience; not only did I learn tons about the biology of Lake Erie, but I gained hands-on practical knowledge of a biologist’s work, met lots of people who are just as excited about biology as I am, and realized more about my future in biology.

When I applied to Stone Lab, I did not expect much. I only had a vague idea of where and what it was, and I almost did not apply because of my ignorance. Thank goodness I did. I learned a crazy amount of information about Lake Erie, met people who I still see at Ohio State, and received hands-on experience in a class that I loved. I also found work as a volunteer on the island when I did not have class, and I actually got hired on for three extra weeks after my class ended. I felt in my element and excited the whole time I was at Stone Lab; I even received the Mad Collector award for my Field Zoology course. Macrobiology has been my passion for years, and Field Zoology was a constant flow of it. I felt as though I got to see behind the curtain of “biology” and witnessed research in the field firsthand. I loved the entire experience, and I wish I could go back for ten more summers.

Four weeks into the course, my teacher, Mr. Thoma, wanted us to learn about fish species activity at different times of the day. In order to compare daytime and nighttime fish activity, our class went electrofishing at two different times on the same day and in the same area. Electrofishing is a technique utilized by biologists to gain a better understanding of the fish populations living within a particular ecosystem like diversity of species or number of fish in a population. Electrofishing boats have a cathode and an anode that are placed in the water and turned on at a low current. The fish swim toward the anode, and the electric current is increased, knocking the fish unconscious for no more than two minutes. When the fish are knocked unconscious, they lose control of their swim bladders and therefore lose control of their buoyancy, rising to the surface of the water.

My classmates and I were on the boat with long nets, and our orders were to catch the fish on the surface and place them in a large tank on the boat so we could record the number of fish and their different species. During the day electrofishing period, we did not catch many large fish, mostly getting minnows and a handful of freshwater drums. However, the night shift was completely different. Three of us with nets had to work together to lift forty-pound carp, channel catfish, and small-mouth bass out of the water. When it was time to release them back into the water, each of us got to hold the giant carps. It was amazing.

Every Thursday night, the residents of Stone Laboratory all gathered in the meeting room for two-hour research and biology-related seminars with guest speakers and Stone Laboratory’s own researchers. We got to learn about current research on Lake Erie and the process of research as it was being carried out. The speakers would also explain how they came to be in their current professions, and it was extremely interesting and inspiring for me to hear how they began around where I am right now and progressed in their work to their current positions. These sessions were academically and personally educational for me, as it opened up the possibilities for what I can do with my future degree in biology if I decide to change career paths.

My Field Zoology professor, Mr. Thoma, was impressive throughout my time at Stone Laboratory. He had so much information to pass onto our class that he was like a walking encyclopedia for nature. Mr. Thoma’s true passion was crayfish, but he could look at a plant, seashell, or insect and tell us its scientific name, habitat, and its place in the ecosystem of Lake Erie. I felt privileged to learn from a man with such a rooted knowledge of biology, and I hope to emulate Mr. Thoma and acquire more information about biology through experience and classes. Thanks to Mr. Thoma, I learned a plethora more about Lake Erie and zoology than I could have ever done in a traditional classroom setting.

Because I took this course over the summer, I will now have time to complete an Animal Sciences minor. I always strive to do my best in my classes, and Field Zoology was no different. I came out of the class with a high “A” and a boost to my overall GPA. I have also wanted to meet professors and other people who I could come to and ask for a good recommendation in the future when I apply to jobs or vet school, and I believe that I met a few people who saw my enthusiasm about biology and would write great recommendations if I asked them. I wanted to meet more people on the biological sciences track, and I met a lot of new people who I still see at Ohio State. Personally, I am always afraid that I chose the wrong major or area of study, but this experience helped reassure me that I was on the right track. While I have an interest in undergraduate research at Ohio State, I realized that I enjoyed getting hands-on experience more, so I have joined the Pre-Vet club in the hopes of gaining real-life experience on top of applying to research positions. I wanted to learn more about different types of organisms and biological diversity for the career I hope to have, and I learned a plethora about different types of organisms and the ecosystem in which they reside.

AVC - Longnose GarElectro-fishing - Day 2Seining