Intern Name: Michele Beadle
Major(s): Biology, Environmental Studies
Title/Place of Internship: Applied Plant Systems Undergraduate Research Intern at the University of Nebraska Lincoln
How did you find out about your internship/fellowship/etc.?
I found my internship through an email that the CSB/SJU Biology department sent out. Then I looked at the UNL summer research programs website to find which research I wanted to apply for. But I also searched for REU's (Research Experience for Undergraduates) online simply by using google.
What were your responsibilities at your internship/fellowship/etc.?
My responsibilities where to learn every part of what graduate school would look like and what is expected of a graduate student. During the internship I worked with graduate students as well as my mentor who is a professor and researcher at UNL that specializes in rangeland and fire ecology.
The beginning of my internship I simply read articles to gain a background in range management and Eastern Redcedar invasion in the Great Plains. As a graduate student it is required that you are an expert on your research topic so that was my goal for the summer. I worked then, towards organizing the field research sites we were going to visit to collect the data I would work with. This meant looking at aerial images on google maps and creating maps on ArcGIS of the patches of Eastern redcedar we wanted to visit.
During our field work in the Loess Canyons, we monitored how fast Eastern redcedar was recovering after the grassland had undergone a high intensity prescribed burn to kill cedar. We spent a week counting cedar present in patches that before the fire were cedar woodlands and nearby grasslands. The patches we sampled where anywhere from 0-17 years since fire. This way we could analyze the re-invasion rate of cedar versus the initial invasion rate.
From this data it is also my job to write a scientific article about my findings. A lot of this internship consisted of writing a manuscript that hopefully will go on to be published in a journal. I also am working on a science literacy project that relates my work to ranchers or grassland managers so they could use the data I found to help with managing invasive Eastern redcedar.
What was the most beneficial aspect of your experience?
My internship taught me what graduate school looks like. As an undergraduate it’s always been a little unclear what exactly graduate school is, so the main goal of my internship was to learn what being a graduate student means. I learned that graduate school is nothing like your undergraduate degree. Graduate students are expected make their research the main focus of schooling. Graduate programs are more like a job, than school in certain aspects. As a graduate student you have a job to do: collecting data and writing a manuscript for publication. I learned the importance of publication, as labs receive grants and funding based on the work they do and articles that they publish.
After this internship I feel like I know what graduate school is like and what I need to do in order to succeed when working towards a higher degree. I also have a network of professors in my field that I can turn to to help me reach my goals and advise my professional development.
What was the most surprising thing you experienced or learned during your internship/fellowship/etc.?
I learned that Nebraska is more than just cornfields and flat landscapes! I got to do research in the Loess Canyons of Nebraska which is a hilly and canyonous landscape where there is grassland that ranchers graze their cattle on. It is a completely different landscape from what people stereotypically think of Nebraska! It was fun to experience a new area where I had never been to before, and learn that Nebraska is actually a really cool place if you give it a chance. There are also fun cities to explore and it has a rich culture unique to Nebraska! Do not be afraid to explore somewhere new!
How can you apply what you experienced at your internship/fellowship/etc. in the future?
I can take the skills I learned and apply them to future research I do in graduate school, or in my future career. The skills I learned ranged from writing to collecting field data on Eastern redcedar trees. I can also take away how to network and connect with people better. This is super important when doing research as there are many different aspect to every research question and you may not always know all the answers, but there are people you can reach out to that do. I also gained confidence in doing research which can help me during future research or any challenges life throws at me.
What advice would you offer to future students interested in this experience?
If you ever get the opportunity to participate in a summer research program, do it! Even if you do not think research is the career you want to pursue, it is beneficial since you learn other lifelong skills that are related to any job you would have. It is also super important that you talk with the graduate student in the lab you are working in, since they have a lot of advice for undergraduate students since they were in your shoes, not too long ago.
If you are interested in doing undergraduate research, the University of Nebraska Lincoln has a huge REU program that admits more than 100 students every summer. They have a wide variety of program ranging from biomedical, engineering, agriculture, computer science, and more! The website to explore these programs is: https://www.unl.edu/summerprogram/home