This summer was one for the books. During the spring semester, I landed an REU internship through the Minorities in Marine and Environmental Sciences Program with the South Department of Natural Resources in Charleston, South Carolina. For the next 12 weeks, I worked as an undergraduate researcher designing and completing my own independent research project under the guidance of three mentors.
This summer, I worked with three species of parasites in the juvenile eel, Anguilla rostrata. The American eel is a valuable fish species for our commercial fishing industries here in the United States, however, the population has experienced a steep decline since the 1980s. Potential causes include physical obstructions (dams, weirs, sluices) that decrease the migratory success of the eels, water pollution, overfishing, and parasite infection. My project investigated whether parasite infection can affect the climbing abilities of the American eels, and therefore inhibit them from using human-built structures, called eel ramps, that are installed across these physical obstructions to help provide them with less physically demanding swimming routes. Throughout the summer, I ventured out on the field to collect my specimen, tested them with an indoor eel ramp that I modeled and constructed, and performed a necropsy on a total of 136 eels to screen them for parasites.
I was able to gain a huge appreciation for parasites through this internship. Parasites are commonly perceived as ugly, nasty creatures that everyone should avoid, however they are truly fascinating creatures that exploit their hosts in the most creative ways! I also had an amazing experience working with mentors who were incredibly passionate about their work. There were days where we hung out in my mentor’s office for hours on end, nerding out about science. This summer, I was able to incorporate my passion for adventure in the marine research lab and field. I was constantly surrounded by creative, energetic, positive, and passionate people and found new forms of inspiration outside of Wesleyan. When I wasn’t researching, I spent my free time exploring nature in South Carolina and teaching myself how to surf. After I got back home, I ended the summer backpacking the entire Connecticut portion of the Appalachian Trial and spontaneously road tripped around New England before heading back to Wesleyan. My advice to anyone who’s trying to figure out their summer: Apply to as many internships and job opportunities as you can. Go learn something new and be adventurous.