Monday, August 27, 2012

The Unexpected Joys of Oyster Shucking and Undergraduate Research - A Student Reflection

Kristina Lam, Biology major in the Verrazano Class of 2015, shares her story of how she got started doing undergraduate research during her first year of college. 

Kristina Lam, Class of 2015
The Verrazano School
Last year as a freshman, wholly uninterested with doing anything but attending my classes at the College of Staten Island, I never would have thought that I would end up in a disposable lab coat and playing with highly concentrated acids in my spare time. From the beginning, I entered college as undeclared, meaning that I did not have any idea what subject I wanted to study or the career I wanted to pursue. I knew that I liked science and math, so when I was given the option of applying for a STEAM scholarship (STEAM is an organization on campus that awards students with scholarship and grant money for scientific research), I did not hesitate at the opportunity for free money. As warmly as the STEAM professors treated me, their primary message seemed like, “here’s $1,000, go do some research and make your college proud!”

From then on, I went searching for a mentor that was willing to take a person with little to no experience in laboratories. Somehow, I managed to find contact information on a PhD student working in the biology department. To my surprise, she was very much interested in marine biology, a branch of biology that I have been interested in since childhood; the focus of her research was oysters.

After she accepted my proposal to aid her in her research, I became content with labeling vials and organizing samples, but a few weeks later she handed me a dissecting knife and taught me how to shuck an oyster. From that experience alone, I learned the different tissues of the oyster, what kinds of organisms live off the oyster’s shell, how oysters grow, and when they are ready to spawn.

I oftentimes tell many of my peers the reason why I volunteered my summer vacation time in a laboratory is that it’s not only the work I get to do that keeps me coming back -  it’s the people I interact with. When finals were steadily approaching and my stress levels reached all-time highs, the other members of the lab would find ways to cheer me on. They would ask me how I was doing, how the class was progressing, and told me that should I need extra help in my work I could always come to them. I found myself looking forward to working in the lab; the atmosphere calmed my nerves and helped me relax from my course load. Like when other students say that their clubs are a way to escape the pressures of class, going to the lab is my secret club.

So now, whenever I find someone interested in science, I always encourage them to do undergraduate research.  That's because even though I did not have any idea as to what I personally wanted to research, there will always be projects that are looking for a extra set of hands. What have you got to lose, right?

No comments:

Post a Comment