STEM Science Undergraduates Grasp Research Opportunities

Being a part of a research project or internship program can feel intimidating, especially if you are new to the university. Undergraduate research and internships, however, are heavily supported at MSU, especially in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Highlighted below are three students who have engaged in research or internships, sharing their passions and experiences.

Jacob Gardner, a junior in the Earth Sciences Department, hailing from Nipomo, California, has a passion for prehistoric creatures. Drawn to MSU by the paleontology program, he sought new experience and trying to “understand how the world developed into what it is today.”

At MSU Gardner works with professor Chris Organ and students Jack Wilson and Holley Flora to learn more about the evolution of dinosaur movement by looking at velocity ratios in their limbs. He describes his research as seeking “to discern, as well as understand, the rates of running evolution in different dinosaur groups.” Gardner is interested “that there was a rapid burst of evolution toward a body plan that represents quicker limb movements prior to the origin of flight in birds.” He hopes this work will lead to a “change [in] the current perceptions of the evolution of biomechanics.”

Gardner’s involvement in the research project began last year when his professor approached him after class. The project has allowed Gardner to do fieldwork in the U.S. and Canada, as well as to present the group’s findings at the Geological Society of America Rocky Mountain and Cordilleran Section Meeting in Bozeman.

According to Gardner getting involved in research is as simple as talking to your professors about research opportunities. “The worst that could happen is that they politely say no and then you move on to another professor,“ he reminded.

When Gardner isn’t in the field he enjoys hiking, camping, fishing, surfing, skateboarding and playing tennis.

Frances Ambrose, a sophomore in the conservation biology and ecology program, researches tree species in the greater yellowstone ecosystem (GYE). This summer she collected “data on tree species in the GYE to see how fires will affect tree species and how the species will move in the next five hundred years.” By comparing burn sites to nearby unburned areas, her lab is able to determine how species react to fires of varying intensities. She is traveling to Portugal for a fire conference to present her lab’s research thus far.

Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, Ambrose was drawn to ecology from a young age. “As a kid, I always loved the natural sciences,” she recalled. “I wanted to be Jane Goodall.”

Ambrose is no stranger to research, having worked with the University of Hawaii on a box jellyfish project during high school. She got involved in research at MSU thanks to an email sent out by her department. When the position was announced, asking for graduate or undergraduate students, she applied. “ I didn’t think I’d get it, but I applied anyways.”

When asked how other student’s can get involved, Ambrose said that talking to an academic advisor and the secretary for your department is the place to start. Her inspiration and support comes from within her department where she is surrounded by “passionate people and faculty [who] want to help you succeed.”

When she’s not working or studying, Ambrose enjoys being outside. She’s also is heavily involved in the Women’s Center on campus and is inspired by many women scientists.

Jenna Waterson is a junior chemical engineering student and an intern with British Petroleum (BP). Through her internship, she has the opportunity to work in two BP refineries, exploring process engineering. “I help with projects in a specific area of the refinery under the unit engineer,” she explained, adding that, “In the past I worked with hydrotreating, getting sulfur and other unwanted compounds out of the future fuel using hydrogen, and sulfur recovery.”

Waterson most enjoys “seeing the things [I] learned about in class applied in real life.” For example, she is able to work with pumps used to transfer liquids, which she had previously learned about in her fluids class here at MSU. Seeing them in action, she said, “gave me a better understanding of how they work.”

After a representative from BP spoke to her class, Waterson took the initiative to apply online and attend the career fair where she provided BP with a resume. After an interview she received the position. Waterson highlighted that it is important to apply for as multiple internships, attend career fairs, and connect with as many companies as possible. “Even if you don’t get an internship that year, at least the companies will know who you are for next year,” she pointed out.

Waterson’s interest in chemical engineering comes from both a love for math and chemistry, as well as her father who is an electrical engineer. She continues to be inspired by her department’s faculty at MSU, noting that, “They all have interesting research, are very supportive and are always willing to answer questions.” After graduation, she hopes to get a job where she can directly apply her experience with BP.

When Waterson isn’t on the job, she enjoys exploring — whether it’s hiking, skiing or traveling.