First Impressions: Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program at the Marine Biology Laboratories in Woods Hole, Mass.

Dr. Veronica Martinez-Acosta, UIW associate professor of biology, is the the co-director of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program (REU). The program is currently meeting over the summer for 10 weeks at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass. UIW student Shannon O’Bryant and Dr. Martinez-Acosta share their first impressions below. IMG_8906

UIW Student Shannon O’Bryant (’17) Shares First Impressions
The REU program at the MBL in Woods Hole, Mass. is one of the best opportunities I have ever been offered. I have always had a mind for science and yearned to explore life and careers in biological laboratories. After a failed internship, I sought other opportunities to fulfill my interest in research and laboratory science. Dr. Veronica Martinez-Acosta offered me an internship position in the REU program. Without hesitation, I accepted, and I have not been disappointed. The atmosphere at Woods Hole is unlike I have ever encountered before. There is such a passion for science and discovery that is so contagious. After spending only a few days here, I feel accepted, empowered, enlightened and driven so much so that I could hardly imagine a life outside of this scientific community. Under Dr. Martinez-Acosta’s mentorship, I feel compelled to accept my drive for discovery and use every second I have here to my advantage. I have access to many resources such as state of the art equipment, like-minded students and seasoned PhD’s to immerse myself in throughout the duration of the summer. Woods Hole is not just a beautiful town, it is also a wide-open opportunity just waiting to be explored.

IMG_8913Dr. Martinez-Acosta Reports on First Two Weeks of the Program
We have just completed our first two weeks of the program.  It has been an honor to be asked to serve as the co-director of one of the most successful REU programs in the country.  We reviewed over 455 applicants and selected 10 top students. 60 percent of our cohort represents an underrepresented minority group, 83 percent of our cohort is female and 60 percent are students at schools with few research opportunities. The MBL is buzzing with activity with faculty and graduate students studying in the famous summer courses offered here.  Currently, the Summer Program in Neuroscience, Ethics and Success (SPINES); Neurophysiology, Neural Systems and Behavior, Neurobiology and the Parasitology courses are running. Our students have had an opportunity to interact with and work through a team building activity with the SPINES graduate students.  I am a proud SPINES course alumna (2002). SPINES is a course that supports the recruitment and retainment of URM graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Interactions with the SPINES students have served as a truly mentoring experience for our undergrads to talk to individuals who are at the next level of their academic training. Students have also attended special lectures of the individual courses as well as the MBL’s Friday Evening Lecture Series. These lectures bring some of the most celebrated people in science to offer talks to the community. After each lecture, the students have the opportunity to meet the speakers and ask further questions about their work.

Aside from the interactions students have with the summer courses and lectures, the REU students are spending the bulk of their time in the labs of the MBL with principle investigators who have extensive training in their fields of interest.  Students will present an oral presentation to the MBL community at the end of their 10 weeks of training. These presentations will be live streamed so that everyone can see it.  Each student will also prepare a research poster that will be displayed near the cafeteria so that the entire community can view their work and so that the student can bring their poster back with them to their home institution. Students are highly encouraged to apply for travel awards to attend scientific meetings during the academic year.

Dr. Martinez-Acosta Reflects on Experiences at MBL
Perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences I have had thus far as the co-director has been the mentoring and professional development I have been able to offer both our undergraduates and graduate students here at the MBL. I have organized the ‘What to Expect Series’ for the MBL undergraduate programs on campus where invited speakers 
IMG_8869come to share their professional career advice regarding different topics such as how to pick your graduate program; when it might be helpful to do a master’s degree; what job opportunities would you have with a master’s or PhD; how to communicate as a scientist; what types of funding opportunities are available for pre-doctoral students; time management; and work/life balance. Most recently, I was invited to participate in the campus wide “SUCCESS” lunch seminar to discuss my career path and offer insight on the obstacles I faced and provide support for how to overcome the challenges one might face in their career.  Overall, the experiences I am gaining as the co-director culminate much of the work I have built upon during my career especially regarding my efforts to provide mentoring opportunities for underrepresented groups that would prepare them for a career in science.