My mentor and Senior Research Scientist Peter Countway is a microbial ecologist in Bigelow Laboratory and we are currently working on a joint project with Dr. David Fields to work on copepods (millimeter sized crustaceans like prawn and crabs) and their relations to their microbiome, which is a collection of microorganisms like bacteria living on and within an organism. Although this may seem like an unimportant research at first, copepods are an essential food source for much sea life such as fish, whales, seabirds, etc. They also annually process around 4 billion tons of organic material through their gut, and a microbiome is essential to the heath of its host, providing it with additional nutrients, a healthier immune system, and potentially changing their behavior. We wanted to understand whether or not a warming ocean would influence these microbial communities within both carnivorous and herbaceous copepods, and open up further research on whether or not the change would affect the copepod’s health.
Although I am a student outside of Colby who discovered the Bigelow opportunity just by chance, the unique research work that I am currently doing here convinced me that leaving behind my college for a semester was the right choice. The research work here for me involves a field component where I go to the dock near the ocean and sample these small critters, and a lab component where I extract the guts and examine the amount and different kinds of bacteria. From my first month here, there was much more writing than what I was expecting out of scientific research, which surprised me because I thought scientific research was more often about experimenting and field work than writing papers and proposals.
Currently, I am learning about what it is like being a scientist, how on somedays there will be mundane and repetitive lab work that, although boring, will garner data for a paper. Other days, however, there will be field work days where I jump aboard a scientific oceanographic vessel for a day and collect data on the ocean by helping measure and use instruments for data collection.
Somedays, whenever I manage to finish my work for the day, I like to explore the woods behind the residence hall, where I can manage to relax and clear my mind. Other times, when I have the time, I often visit and chat with the faculty and staff here on this beautiful laboratory. I also take the time to explore the laboratory whenever possible to familiarize myself with where people usually are.
In conclusion, this semester is unique in that I get to travel to and learn in one of the few marine science laboratories to get an understanding of what it is to become a marine scientist and what it is truly like to work in this unique field. This experience so far has been more or less what I would be expecting for a research class except that I far underestimated how much I enjoyed learning here.
Joseph Qian is an Emory University student in Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science’s semester-in-residence program. This intensive research experience is focused on ocean science within a changing global climate.