Thursday, November 9, 2017

Swimming with the Fishes

The summer of 2017 was one of the busiest and life changing times of my life. Never have I been more exhausted in my life, and I wouldn't take it back for the world. From May 27th to July 22nd, I was blessed with the opportunity to work doing field research under the summer CI stipend with the Conservation of Marine Resources team. During this stay in the Florida Keys, the team and I worked on many projects in order to gather as much data for research as possible. One major project that we took on involved coral transplants that we placed on eight different reef sights. Four separate hard corals were placed in random order along a 50 meter transect on each site. Six of each type of coral were transplanted on each site, adding up to about 200 coral transplants that we did over the course of a week.

We also studied several different organisms, including spiny lobsters, damselfish, and parrotfish. After our work this summer, the stoplight parrotfish have a special place in my heart. My individual project for this creative inquiry involves studying the influence of parrotfish as herbivores on the reefs of the Florida Keys. We know from past data collections the particular diet of the stoplight parrotfish, however I wanted to see just how their territories are shaped by their diet and the structure of the reef, as well as how female stoplight parrotfish play a role on the reef. To do this, we followed supermale and female stoplight parrotfish for ten minute time periods, dropping flags as they turned in order to mark where their territories end. We also recorded their size, any notable behaviors, and other parrotfish they came into contact with. In order to study their territory sizes and movement patterns on a more accurate scale without diver interactions, we placed acoustic tags within several supermale stoplight parrotfish that will send out signals to receivers throughout a particular area of reef sites. We have been analyzing the data we've collected so far with this project throughout the semester, and will continue to do so over the following year.

Being in the Keys this summer has taught me an incredible amount about the ocean and about myself. I learned so much about the interactions between reef species just by my observations alone. I now can accurately identify several species of fish, some even just by their shapes. I've gained the ability to tell apart common coral and sponge species throughout the Florida reefs, and I now have a better understanding of how different parts of the ocean interact as a whole. I feel in love with the ocean this summer. Not only was this an amazing experience for my future career, but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that has cemented my passion for the sea and the creatures within it. I could not be more thankful for this creative inquiry and the people within it that continue to shape my life within the lab.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Summer break or study break?

This summer I was mostly studying, but also took a break to go back to Costa Rica again as a medical mission trip. I was studying for the MCAT in order to apply for medical school for the 2018 year. I was super nervous and spent most of the summer at my house in New Jersey, studying from day until night. Fortunately in the middle of the summer, I got a chance to be Dr. Gallicchio's teacher's assistant on my trip to Costa Rica. I remember last summer it being such a great experience and wanted to go back and make another difference there. I wanted to go back to the communities and see the difference that we were making. Last summer when I had come back to CR i was so upset by not having enough medication and supplies in our clinics last year that I had an idea to create a club for those members who wanted to help these communities/who wanted to attend the mission trips. This club would raise money for the supplies and medication for the free clinic as well as teaching students the necessary techniques that needed to be performed while in the clinics. These techniques include physical exam, taking vitals, and taking patient history in spanish. With a small idea, I was able to turn it into a huge success by raising close to $5,000 for the following summer. When going back this summer, I wanted to see where all the hard work was going to and it was just a reminder of why I am so passionate about helping these people. I spent 2 weeks in Alajuela, Costa Rica. There we were able to help around 200 patients and it felt amazing. I was so happy to help a lot of these people who lived in conditions that we couldn't even imagine living in the US. When I got back to the US i continued to fill out my medical school applications and was accepted at the end of September to University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville Class of 2022. I am so excited to be able to graduate this December and then start this new chapter of my life in July of 2018. I am so thankful for this lab for giving me the skills, guidance, and support to have helped me where I am.

 All that I have learned in this lab is something I am going to take with me no matter where I am, and although it doesn't hold a future career path for me, it certainly is something that I am going to make sure that I am educated about. I think that everyone needs to be educated like I have in this lab and am so lucky to have had this opportunity.It is truly remarkable to be able to listen and learn from students who are interested in conservation of marine resources including Kara, Kylie and Dr. Childress who have such passion for improving our environment. I've learned in lab how special people like this are, who want to change our world for the better and to dedicate their lives basically to the research of it. I can't wait to see what this lab continues to do for students at Clemson.