Undergrads Travel to UVM to Study Lake Champlain
Hear what they have to say about their Vermont experiences
- By Jason Dana Stockwell
Ten undergraduates from around America are probing the waters of Lake Champlain this summer, seeking a clearer picture of how people are impacting the lake’s ecosystem — and how the regional economy is affected by the health of the lake. At two weeks into the Lake Champlain Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, students are busy developing their individual research projects and working in interdisciplinary teams, with guidance from UVM faculty, including Jason Stockwell, director of UVM’s Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory.
Read on for the students' first-hand accounts of the experience so far.
Bret Turner (Penn State University)
This week I was really able to start working on my research project studying pharmaceutical contamination in Lake Champlain. I have an awesome mentor who is just as excited as I am about our research and who is really helpful in guiding me through the process of making my methods efficient and successful. I am currently reading lots of literature related to the subject of pharmaceutical contamination, pharmaceutical policy, and pharmaceutical stewardship. I am also creating a pharmaceutical database to try and identify substances of highest concern in relation to their frequency of prescription and their abilities to enter and remain the lake ecosystem. Aside from my research, I am really enjoying campus and Burlington. There are so many different restaurants and shops to explore that I doubt I will have time to see them all in just two short months. However, I am going to give it a try!
Maggie McHugh (Ohio State University)
This past week has been filled with working on our projects, and starting to formulate a refined project plan for the whole summer. We also have had a chance to get to work with our interdisciplinary teammates on how our projects connect, which has been a great learning experience. Outside of working, we have had time to explore Burlington and all the beauty that Vermont holds. We were able to try some restaurants in the area, listen to live music on Church St., and go hiking on Mt. Mansfield and canoeing in Waterbury Reservoir. We also have decided to start doing Sunday night family dinners so this week we pooled our money together and had a delicious taco night!
Dong Yi Chen (High School for Environmental Studies)
The first week of working in the lab is a sight-opening experience, from the culturing of Pseudomonas aeruginosa to the manipulation of advance scientific technologies and the reading of a myriad of research papers. The biggest thing that I like about my lab is that people are very friendly and casual toward each other.
Jing He (Middlebury College)
This week I officially started work on my project, which concerns looking at the spatial effects of environmental concern on Lake Champlain. I don’t know much about environmental psychology, but I’ve been reading up on “sense of place” theory and it’s really interesting to see how people develop special attachments to places that transcend the space’s utilitarian purposes. For instance, someone (let’s call him Joe) might be attached to a particular lake because his family used to go there every weekend and he has happy childhood memories there. Joe will probably care more about that specific lake and will go to further lengths to protect it, and he won’t accept another lake that provides the same amenities as a substitute. So this affects how Joe will respond to certain policies regarding management of that particular lake. Anyways, I will be modeling the relationship between people’s proximity (one factor that affects their sense of place) to Lake Champlain and their willingness to pay (or “concern”) to maintain water quality in the lake. On Saturday, Tori took us interns to the Shelburne Museum. We saw a ton of cool stuff such as a glass art exhibit, impressionist paintings (with some Monets and Manets!), and the Ticonderoga steamship. Then on Sunday, Maggie, Monisha, Evan, Nathan, and I hiked around Mount Mansfield (didn’t summit—saving that for another day!) and then went to the Waterbury Reservoir where we canoed/kayaked and swam around. It was a gorgeous day, the scenery was gorgeous, and afterwards we came home and ate some gorgeous tacos…needless to say it was a great day.
Nathan Tillotson (Murray State University)
Well week two has certainly bumped things up a notch. The research is really starting to get going well, and everybody is starting to find their place in it all. With everything going on, we've still managed to find the time to go hiking, fishing, kayaking, swimming, and see a movie. The scenery up here continues to amaze me, and I'm still working on getting used to the mountain view outside my window. Week two has been spectacular, and I can't wait to see what week three has in store.
Monisha Sugla (Rutgers University)
The past week has been just as busy but it is getting easier to get into the flow of things. The REU trainings have been really helpful so far in terms of how to properly conduct research and help us consider different in terms of graduate school and career paths! This past weekend, the interns and I explored more of Vermont. Our weekend consisted of visiting Shelburne Museum, some hiking at Mt. Mansfield, and canoeing and swimming and Waterbury Reservoir. It was definitely a well-need break from our hectic schedules! Starting Monday, I have been able to spend more time at the lab and outline the process of my research project. I was able to collect zooplankton samples in order to help determine the method I will be using when it comes time to actually collecting my samples. The next few days, I will be going through my samples and learning how to properly count, measure, and identify the zooplankton. Hopefully, it will soon help sort out which method I will use when it comes time to collecting samples out on Missisquoi Bay!
Ciara Low (Brown University)
I know it’s cliché, but… I’ve been sucked in: Burlington’s great! It’s really hard to complain when you’re surrounded by happy, well-fed, vitamin-D nourished, outdoor-loving souls. That goes for both downtown Burlington and the office. The vibe here is informal and relaxed, despite the drive and passion of everyone working here. It’s a great environment to dive into. If anything I’m just a little jealous of the CIT labs yoga balls and no shoe policy. Project-wise this week has been a lot of grunt work and data downloading/processing. Though not very interesting, it's a major part of the reality of research that is often overlooked in the glamour of results. So I’m truckin’ away, glamorous results on the horizon.
Evan Nathan (Skidmore College)
I'm still experiencing a slow learning curve in the lab, but I definitely understand the procedures much better than I did last week. They don't seem so overwhelming now, and hopefully they'll be second nature soon. It's a good feeling when you take ten frozen fish livers one afternoon and end up with their just their smelly lipids the next morning. Add a friendly group of people and good music blasting through the lab speakers, and it makes for a nice work day. Outside of research, we've been exploring Vermont. Last weekend, we went to the Shelburne Museum, then canoeing and kayaking on the Waterbury Reservoir. Today, we hiked up Mt. Hunger, with a gorgeous view of the Green Mountains at the top.
Julia Lees (Colorado College)
"To everything there is at least an hour, and a time to every purpose under the heaven, during week two: a time to work, a time to play, a time to read scientific literature, a time to hike, a time to work through the complexities of ArcGIS, a time to celebrate fathers, a time to sleep, a time to try very hard not to sleep."
-Loose interpretation of Ecclesiastes 3
This week we were able to fully dive into our independent research. I, for one, can say I have a much clearer understanding of what I will be doing the rest of the summer after this week than after last week, largely because I had the opportunity to start working on my project. After reading numerous papers on the subject throughout the week, on Friday my mentor introduced me to some of the first steps I needed to do in ArcGIS and sent me to go figure out how to do it. Largely it was pretty straightforward, but wrestling with (and googling around for) the tasks which were less familiar to me was a rewarding experience because I felt such a feeling of accomplishment every time I learned a new way to do something. Also speaking of reading papers, this week was Journal Club hosted by Monisha and myself. We were asked to combine our topics, zooplankton and hedonic analysis of the value of water quality on property value respectively, into one coherent discussion focused around 2 papers. Overall we felt this went pretty well, though in the future we could have had a more focused direction for the discussion, beyond just seeing the connection between the two papers and how they relate to the broader issues in the lake. Another memorable part of the week was joining up with the neuroscience REU for the ethics training which was actually really interesting. No sleep inducing 80s documentary here! Instead, we got to do a choose-your-own-adventure type simulation of the life of a PhD student in the lab with a post doc who submitted a fraudulent paper to a journal. Later in the week we met with one of the people who had been involved in a research misconduct case at our very own UVM. We finished the week with a Saturday hike up Mt Hunger, led by my very own mentor Brian. All in all week two busy, but had ample opportunities for learning and recreating.
Edwin Gonzalez (Universidad del Turabo)
This week I started working in the lab. It has been an interesting experience so far, personally I don’t like lab work, but for my surprise, I’m enjoying it. I’ve been taking DNA samples of Smelt and I was given the opportunity to work with cool toys which I had never worked. I’m working in a really comfortable environment, the mentors are really nice and my other lab mates are really cool. It’s been a really good week so far, I’ve been learning a lot and I had time to relax for a little bit and go fishing.