I remember back in the spring of 2009, when I was a junior in high school, I stumbled onto BU’s Marine program website. I was already thinking about applying to colleges and I had my mind set on pursuing studying marine science or environmental science, which is why I googled for different programs in the first place. I first read about the BUMP semester and I knew I had to do it. I visited BU a couple of months later and found myself comparing all the other universities I was interested in to BU. Nothing compared to this amazing place. As soon as I was accepted I attended the accepted students day in held in April 2010, and this is when I knew I made the best choice for myself. There was a part of the day where any students interested in Marine Science were able to tour the BUMP lab. I remember Prof. John Finnerty was explaining all the components to the program and I just became even more excited for college.
My first semester came and I was ecstatic to be taking Oceanography with Prof. Wally Fulweiler. Just learning the basics was also made me feel that I was definitely studying something that I love. The next semester I took Marine Biology with Prof. Jelle Atema. It was really fun as we had some amazing guest lecturers from people like Les Kaufman and John Finnerty. At the time I was taking the course, Pete Buston was Jelle’s assistant professor helping out with the logistics of the course. I knew who he was because he came into oceanography the previous semester and spoke to us about his research with clownfish. I was already interested in his work back then but I had no idea about volunteering in a lab or anything really. I remember it took me the ENTIRE semester to muster up the courage to ask Pete if he had any open positions in his lab. I finally asked literally the second after I handed in my final. He told me that he typically took in sophomores in the spring semester. That means I would have to contact him in December, 7 months later. I figured I should gain some experience so I began looking for summer internships.
I came across a non-profit organization called the River Project that is based in Manhattan. I live about a half hour away from New York City so I applied and got a position! The River Project is a marine science field station located on the lower west side of Manhattan in New York City. They are dedicated to protecting and restoring the Hudson River estuary by educating the public and working on research. The organization’s mission was to educate the people of New York about what exactly was living in their backyard. As an intern I was responsible for doing water quality sampling, collecting animals, taking care of all the animals in the wet lab, and helping out with an on-going oyster project. Any fish found in the facility was taken directly from the Hudson River. This included cunners, bass, blue crabs, hermit crabs, blackfish, perch, toadfish, flounder, American eels, pipefish, and even lined seahorses! To capture the fish, a bunch of traps were set up on The Lilac, a historical ship. The other interns and I would check the traps and tally up what was caught on a given day and only take back specimens that were large enough to live in the wet lab. We would also hoist up the oysters that were being grown and measured each individually to see how fast they were growing. I was also able to work on a campaign to advertise the launch of the River Project’s F.A.D (fish aggregating device). I designed the postcards that were being sent out to hundreds of people living in the city, which was really fun since I like being creative sometimes. Overall, I had the best time that summer since I was getting a feel for what it was like to be in a lab environment.
After that summer I really wanted to start working in a lab. Luckily, in the fall my roommate at the time saw in the UROP listings that Pete was looking for some volunteers and I applied for the position right away. A couple of interviews later and I was picked! I have been working there ever since and I love every second! During my first semester in Pete’s lab I was doing similar tasks to what I was doing at the River Project. I was feeding all the clownfish in the Nemotron, the room where they are all kept and checking the water quality of the systems. In my second semester, I was responsible for taking care of the quarantined fish. These fish were shipped straight from New Guinea and often come with bacteria and other gross stuff that could make them unhealthy. I monitored these fish to make sure they were healthy enough to transition into the Nemotron.
I took the fall semester of my junior year off to do the Marine Semester. This is a semester that consists of four intense, block-format classes that are all research-based. This literally has been the best semester that I’ve ever had at BU. In Marine Megafauna I was able to go whale watching a couple of times a week to directly observe humpback whale behavior, which I never thought I would be able to do for a class. I was able to explore areas in and around Boston that I didn’t know existed in Marine Urban Ecology. When I was in Marine Policy I learned all about the importance of communication in law and got to meet some influential people like author Deborah Cramer (I also got my copy of her book signed and she checked out the blog I created for the class!!). For the last block, I was able to go to the beautiful country of Belize with the Tropical Marine Invertebrates class and did some work on sea grass beds, which was amazing! I got to escape the Boston winter, even if it was only for ten days. This semester taught me how to work better when under pressure and I gained more of an appreciation for research.
In the same semester I decided to apply to volunteer at the New England Aquarium in the marine mammals department. It was actually surprising how much it felt like I was applying for a job since I had to do a couple of interviews. Usually that doesn’t happen when I want to volunteer for places. Anyway, a lot of what I do while volunteering is helping out the trainers behind the scenes with fish prep and cleaning. It is still a lot of fun because I work closely with the trainers and I do sometimes get to directly interact with the animals when the trainers are working on certain behaviors. I also get to work on my public speaking skills. I do the pre-show talk for the harbor seals training sessions where I tell guests different facts about the seals. (Come by on a Sunday if you want to hear me live!) The position is pretty hands-off; as the trainers want to maintain the relationships they have created with the seals. However, outside of the times I interact with the seals while helping trainers, I do get to enrich the animals alone or with other volunteers without trainers present. I was able to do this after a couple of months of volunteering there. For example, I will go out on exhibit after a session in the afternoon and give the seals some ice toys to play with or I bring a big mirror out for the seals to look at themselves. I can’t do anything that is similar to training, like tossing food the seals or asking them to perform any behaviors when it is not a training session, since I am not positively enforcing the behavior. It is still really fun to watch the seals play and enjoy a toy that the other volunteers and I made, even if we aren’t physically touching them.
Along with continuing my volunteering at the aquarium this semester, I have gone back to working in Pete’s lab. Currently I am working on my UROP proposal for the summer. I am planning to research how the clownfish learn by doing a conditioning experiment. I will be training the fish to feed from different colored tubes depending on who is dominant and who is a subordinate. In the future, we hope that this will allow us to manipulate things like the mass and the activity of the clownfish. My whole experiment is still in the planning stages as I’m reading up on classical and operant conditioning to make sure I am using the correct terminology and approaching this in the correct way. I am really excited since this is really the first time I get to do my own independent research.
Coming to BU to study marine science was one of the best choices I have made in my life, and I say this with no exaggeration. These past 3 years have been a whirlwind for me. Being a marine science major is a ton of work but I find it extremely rewarding. There have been some ups and downs but I wouldn’t change that for the world. Through this major I have met some amazing people, like my professors and friends, who have influenced me greatly. I’m glad that I can truly say that I love what I am doing everyday and I feel so fortunate to have found that. I am looking forward to my last year of college, where I will hopefully get to study abroad in Australia with the School of Field Studies in the fall. Soon after that I will be off to grad school and I feel that because of what I learned at my time at BU, I will be prepared for whatever comes my way.