Summer research gives undergraduates rare opportunities
For seven summers in a row, biology majors have been able to immerse themselves in research thanks to a series of National Science Foundation grants. This year, senior
Nick Rankin will be studying predator-prey interactions with
Jim Hodgson (Biology), an opportunity made possible by a $6,000 Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grant.
Rankin will collaborate with Hodgson in monitoring bass and pumpkinseed diets. He says, “I’ve always had a profound interest in the sciences and I’ve always wanted to get involved in some of the amazing research projects that are going on around the country.
“While in college, I’ve developed a particular interest for ecological and environmental sciences. I’m an environmentalist, and a proud one at that. It’s my hope that rubbing elbows with some pretty prestigious and well-published scientists will teach me more about the influence of apical predators in lake ecosystems, as well as open my eyes to the huge impact anthropogenic influences can have on a lake’s ecosystem.”
REU projects involve students in meaningful ways in ongoing research programs, says Hodgson. He has been working with colleagues to chronicle the foraging behavior of largemouth bass in a small seepage lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
For seven consecutive years, Hodgson has applied for and received grants that have been used to give undergraduate students an opportunity to do research work during the summer. The grant includes a stipend for the student, money for materials and supplies, and travel and accommodations as they do their research.
According to Hodgson, it is vital that science students understand the intellectual content of their discipline and the process in which this knowledge develops. “Research is the most effective, if not the only, vehicle to the ultimate development of this skill,” he said.
“In teaching students about the way scientific knowledge develops and advances, we must provide them with meaningful research experiences such as those provided by the REU program. Through hands-on activities they learn to formulate and test hypotheses.”
Rankin would like to become a high school biology and environmental science teacher and says this experience will undoubtedly help him become a better educator in the lab. “Labs and research is what science is all about; without it, there’d be nothing to fill the textbooks.
“I hope this research experience can give me some clever ideas for what I’d like to see in my own classroom. Simply participating in a program likes this helps one to become a better scientist and more experienced educator.”
REU participants who have worked with Hodgson in previous summers are
Allison Rick ’06,
Mikaela Provost ’05,
Elsa Hansen ’04,
Joe Buechel ’03,
Eddie Heath ’02 and
Beth Charipar ’01.
Participation in the REU program has inspired many students to publish their research findings and to continue their professional training in graduate school. Hansen, for instance, is currently a graduate student at the University of Minnesota and has a publication co-authored with Hodgson.