My goal when looking for opportunities this past summer was to find an internship that gave me as much hands-on experience as possible in an ecology lab. Working in the Coastal and Marine Science Institute Laboratory (CMIL) this past summer gave me that and more. I spent my time helping my mentor, Gabby Kalbach, and the Miller Lab with their oyster biological sensor project.
I was incredibly nervous going into the building for the first time, thinking about whether or not I would fit into the lab, but the graduate students were all warm and friendly and encouraged me to ask any questions I might have. CMIL is not your stereotypical white coat and goggles lab. In fact, on my first tour of the lab, I walked by a room where three graduate students were using a mallet to separate PVC and all they did was ask my mentor and I if we wanted to try it. My nerves faded after my first week and I was excited to get to work on sensors.
Oysters open their shells to breathe and eat, and when their shells are closed it might mean that they are holding their breath. Usually, they close their shells during low tide to prevent from drying out, but on occasion oysters will close their shells during high tide too. This can be due to low water quality, sometimes caused by pollution runoff due to rain. In the Miller lab, we attach magnetic sensors to the shells of the oyster to monitor when they are opening and closing. We can compare this information to rainfall and water quality data to see why their valves are closed during high tide. Learning about the purpose of the sensors made attaching them and working on the project much more enjoyable.
In addition to attaching sensors, a big part of the prep work was to use hand and power tools to build racks required to keep the oysters from drifting away from where they were deployed, and keep them safe from predators in the estuary. As someone that has never used hand and power tools, this was exciting and the program even allowed me to participate in a tools workshop that would allow me to use other tools around the lab. Among the many tools were table saws, drills, and sanders needed to build equipment for ecology work. I really appreciated this as it prepares me to continue conducting field research in other ecology labs.
By far my favorite part of the internship was kayaking to deploy the racks and oysters. I had never kayaked before this internship and instead of that holding me back from participating in the “final” part of the work, I was taught how to kayak and basic safety skills on the water. Kayaking was very important to the research project because our sensors were placed among water quality sensors that should not be tampered with. What made the situation even cooler was the fact that we were kayaking in a remote location not open to the public that required a permit to access. While kayaking was more tiring than I thought, it was also incredibly fun.
While in this internship I have learned valuable skills that are required to conduct field research. I have learned how to clean solar panels to ensure that they are fully operational. I have collected live specimens, feed them, and maintain their tanks. I have also learned how to pull cages from the sea while on a boat and take data while in the field. I am incredibly grateful for all of the experiences I had this past summer. Thanks to this program, my goals have changed recently after being able to use technology to conduct field research. I now want to work to help build and work on technology used in ecology and I am hoping to take this new knowledge to find more research opportunities that focus more on the equipment. Without this internship, I would not have learned how much I liked building and working with the equipment needed to conduct research. I owe CMIL and all of the mentors a big thank you.