Professional formation is a stated mission of SU. For biology students, the way to this goal is through summer research. Drs. Lindsay Whitlow, Carolyn Stenbak and Michael Zanis - faculty members in biology - say the fusion of research and education is what drew them to work in an academic environment.
The three professors share an interest in what affects patterns in biodiversity, each with different expertise. "Lakes present a good system where the three of us can collaborate ona question about how water quality affects certain viruses present in the lake algae," says Dr. Zanis. In June, Abi Wells ('16 BIOL) joined their project as a student researcher.
"Abi had the necessary critical thinking skills," says Dr. Stenbak. "She pored over dozens of journal articles and made valuable contributions to our discussions of how we could use our labs and equipment to replicate and expand on what had already been done."
After collecting water samples from 10 different lakes across the region, Abi began working to isolate the DNA of the viruses. "Because this project was a new collaboration, there was not a defined questions for the research to investigate," Abi says. "The opportunity for a rising junior not only to participate in the research but also to help drive the direction it headed, is one of incalculable value."
"As mentors, we encourage student researchers to take the lead, and we are here to help if they get stuck," says Dr. Stenbak. Students benefit from seeing the failures, successes and troubleshooting involved in obtaining results and begin to see themselves as contributing members of the scientific community.
Dr. Whitlow says, "The work we do does not align neatly with the nine-month academic year, because the organisms and the systems being studied are seasonally dependent and require dedicated periods of time in the lab that are not available during a quarter."
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