Name: Monika Locatis
Type of Project: Undergraduate Research
For my STEP signature project I contributed to research done in Dr. Grottoli’s Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry Laboratory. Her research focuses on how ocean temperature and acidification effects the adaptation of coral species. In her lab, I spent most of my time either cleaning or outlining the surface area of pictures of coral, to look at the relationship between surface area growth with numerous stressors, such as high temperature and high acidity, or low temperature high acidity.
My project was very insightful in how many steps the research process needs to be carried out, and how many people contribute to that research. For instance, I did not except the time of these research projects to extend to the amount they did. I worked in the lab for 2 semesters and obtaining the complete results of the surface area project was not finished by the time I left. We looked at coral from 1 month, 5 months, 17 months to 22 months when putting a stressor on them. This alone takes up a lot of time and dedication from the graduate students and lab assistants. When you look at the grand scheme of things, such as collecting the data, processing the data, writing the results, and more, it takes a long time, taking the graduate students 3 years or more to publish.
I also realized how many different steps there are towards research. There are of course, steps outlined in scientific papers such as the methods and results, but there’s much more that goes into that. One thing people never think about when considering research is the clean up and planning research needs. I would mostly do the cleaning as an assistant to the lab, where cleaning must be particular so not contaminations ruined results. Coral dust and fragments had to be cleaned thoroughly with soap, rinsed many times, and glassware burned or plastic bathing in an acid solution. There were also many conferences to plan with the graduate students, and of course field research when it calls. These components are very much overlooked and seen as minor, but they are needed in a research lab.
I learned that communication in research is the key to completing research. We would have weekly lab meetings to discuss our progress in our research and get feedback on how to present the research. Since this work will eventually be published for the whole community to critique and see, Dr. Grottoli reviewed the graduate students work and suggested ways to present the information, or different methods that will produce better results. Research is done by many people at once working on pieces of it to make a bigger project. It is also about trust, where the graduate students had to let us help with their research and gave us the responsibility to complete tasks that affect the results.
This affected my view on research, as well as my attitude and interaction within my research lab, as well as outside the lab, helping me become more professional. I learned the importance of everyone in a lab and applied that in my workplace. I learned how to openly communicate more, and learned to trust others with my responsibilities more when I need help. I learned time management with my projects, seeing how long research takes made me spread my projects out so I can give them the time and attention they need to be the best.
Being a part of a research lab and experiencing all these things I never expected in a research setting has led me further into my career path. I know truly understand the scientific process and have gained research experience that will only help me advance to more research and positions in my field that will make me a respected member of the science community. However, I have only scratched the surface of research, and hope to conduct my own big-scale research someday. I am very grateful for the opportunity Dr. Grottoli has given me, letting me work in her research lab.
All of these things I’ve learned about research has just further solidified my career path, as I’ve come to learn research is very important (although time consuming) and it leads to bigger changes that can significantly impact our choices in conservation efforts, and thus help recover or continue to have ecosystem services and/or populations of a species. And everything I’ve learned in the lab, communication, time management, professionalism, from the connections I’ve made and the level of responsibility I was given will only help me advance further into my career. In my profession, I would eventually have to do research. Graduating without any research experience can be detrimental, and I am glad my STEP project has let me advance further into my career, giving me valuable experience needed to continue growing in my studies.