Before applying for this internship, I didn’t have any research experience; my main drive was to acquire the skills necessary to conduct my own research someday. I know this might sound a bit of a stretch considering I just finished my first year of undergrad, but I feel as though the skills needed for successful, meaningful research need to be established and developed over time. I was a bit skeptical of my ability to contribute meaningfully to the research team due to my lack of experience. My initial doubts came from my chemistry labs in which I almost always felt lost at some point.
We started our first day of research at F&M, going over some of the clams we would see in the field. All I can remember now is Paul going on about the different clams and me wondering how and when would I be able to name these clams when we were in the field? Did I have to already memorize these different species? Stressed out a little about the clams and their names and how I would get over this, we started our journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Our first offshore day in Louisiana started slow but when we began to get the samples, excitement built and I was ready to get into it all. Not really knowing how to sieve, I started with that, and as the samples kept coming, we kept finding better ways to remove the clay that contained our shells. Most of my time in Louisiana was spent sieving; the first time I tried to pick through a sample on the boat, I faced the problem of seasickness and my fear of dealing with the clams. Although it was difficult at first, and I had to ask Paul constantly the names, by the end of our two days offshore, I felt more comfortable. Having the two days of offshore experience helped me get into the groove of things and get a feel for what the work in Alabama and Florida was going to look like.
Slowly learning to identify the different kinds of clams helped significantly when comparing the two places we have sampled so far. With the work experience from Louisiana, it was easier to notice the difference in sediments, as well as the different types of clams, at our Alabama sites. As I continued to rotate through the positions of picking and sieving, I realized how my interest and understanding of the research grew over time in the field.
By the end of our work in these two regions of the Gulf, I can now confidently identify Nuculana and Ameritella individuals, and can see how the number of each of these species varies among our sites. Working at the multiple sites fostered my interest in the research and gain the confidence to work with the samples later in the summer.
Our fieldwork helped me better understand Paul’s article (Harnik et al. 2017) as it put the concepts discussed in the paper into context with respect to sample sizes and live versus dead counts. It’s been an amazing time getting these samples and I can’t wait until Florida!