Overcoming Barriers in Ecological Research

I realized I was interested in ecology and wanted to have a role in studying the complexities of relationships between organisms and their environment after taking several ecology courses. I started talking to my ecology professor at this time and asked how one can get involved in ecological research, and she advised me to try to get in contact with principal investigators that focus on ecology at the university. 

I then became a research assistant and technician at a lab, but knew I wanted to apply the skills I gained to start a new project with a different focal point. I began going through the professors that focus on ecology and saw Dr. Carson’s lab website, containing a plethora projects that aligned with my interests in ecology and biodiversity instabilities. Dr. Carson’s work with invasive species and biodiversity collapse was especially appealing to myself, and my current project incorporates the need to prevent such issues in our region. I emailed Dr. Carson and expressed interest in working with him on a project and was able to begin a research project that interests me, helps improve my research skills, and accommodate the safety protocols of the pandemic.  

As an undergraduate, it can be incredibly intimidating trying to start a research project. Additionally, the pandemic has created an additional barrier for students as we now must perform a balancing act of following the university’s safety guidelines while also establishing a research project. If a student wants to conduct research but doesn’t know where to start, the most important part is trying to figure out what they enjoy studying. If a student decides to conduct research for a project that they are not passionate about, they will likely struggle a lot and not find it as beneficial. The easiest way to find out current research at the university is to go to a department’s website and going through the professors that have ongoing work, reading through their lab websites, and compiling a list of labs and professors that seem most interesting to the student. The student can then email those professors and stating their interest in the ongoing work, along with their resume and any other information that helps the professor get an idea of who you are. A key part of this is understanding that you cannot give up if the first professor you email is not able to work with you; there is so much research being done at the university that a student can start a project if they are determined enough.  Furthermore, students have to be flexible and ready to adapt to the constantly changing environment with the pandemic and new information that arises.

Connections are an important part of the research experience as well as obtaining any professional goals. It is crucial to show that you can work well with everyone and anyone, as this ability is incredibly beneficial to working in research. Additionally, gaining exposure to other people and meeting them is a great way to learn about new opportunities in the field you are working in, which only helps you in the long run. 

I am currently working on my project outside of the lab, collecting data from multiple resources and compiling them for analysis. Resources such as iNaturalist, Google Earth, and Microsoft allow me to allow me to continue working on my research while following the safety protocols.

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