Star gazing at midnight, s’mores and friends, and a barbecue every week pretty much sums up my summer. This summer I was on campus monitoring wild bee diversity in ornamental gardens alongside approximately 50 other students. My research was funded by the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program. The McNair program is dedicated to increasing the attainment of the Ph.D. by students from underrepresented groups.
This was, hands down, one of my best summers ever! The summer began with a retreat to Lake Barkley State Resort Park. Although the retreat was packed with workshops on preparing graduate school and Ph.D. programs, we still had the opportunity to go swimming every day, ate amazing southern food, and ride a pontoon boat.
Bees buzzing around, the smell of peonies, and barbecues are some of the tell-tale signs of summer in Canton, New York. On campus, flowers were in full bloom as we began our six-week long research experience. Researchers are called investigators, and this summer I learned exactly how true it is. The summer started off with everyone sinking into research journals, textbooks, and other literature. One of the first steps of research is compiling known information on the topic of interest, practically a stake out to get all the dirty details on the suspect. You have to scour through hundreds of journals and published material, to find relevant information about the topic. This long, tedious, time consuming process is what gets me excited, I learned a lot about bees, gardens, and ornamental flowers through this process, topics that I rarely ever thought about before.
The next step was designing an experiment, and going out in the field to collect data. For me, it meant that I got to go through the St. Lawrence County, visit dozens of gardens, meet the gardeners, take pictures of beautiful flowers, and collect bees! I now know all the streets, and neighborhoods of Canton, and who grows what. This strikes up interesting conversations like, “Did you see Nancy’s Wisteria? They look stunning.” I now feel like a local when I meet people from the community.
My favorite part of the project was collecting bees, washing, drying (with a blow dryer), pinning, and identifying them from their morphology. This is around the half way point of the summer, when everyone is busy with data collection, analysis, and writing their papers. Therefore, over the weekend we take a break from work and go on trips. My housemates went to local waterfalls, some people went canoeing around the Adirondack Park, and some even went to Burlington. On Wednesdays, the professors organize a barbeque for all the students where we get to meet other SLU researchers and talk about our work.
By the end of the summer, we are exhausted from all the deadlines and projects. Final steps include finishing a formal paper, a poster to present during the Family Weekend Reception, and for some like myself, preparing to present at a conference. I was given the opportunity to present my work at the annual University of California Berkeley McNair Symposium. This summer has prepared me for a semester of applying to graduate programs, made a better researcher, and helped me find my academic passion.
I will never forget the friends that I made this summer, the numerous nights we spent baking, eating, and sharing stories, and sticking it through the rough parts of research, when things did not go as expected. I now know that my passion is to study interactions between human health and the environment in which we live. The summer of 2017 is one that has given me a lot of new friends, experiences, and has shaped my academic future.