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Ecological Physiology Research

I am currently in my first-year as a Ph D. student in the Biological Sciences Program of Stanford University, with a focus in Marine/Integrative/Organismal Biology. Directed by renowned ecological physiologist and marine biologist Professor George Somero, I will study the adaptations of marine organisms to their environment. Our research has implications that extend from a greater understanding of marine organism physiology to the effects of climate change and other anthropogenic forces on the oceans.

The turning point for my decision to focus on ecological physiology research came about through the National Science Foundation – Research Experinces for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of Alaska-Southeast (UAS), where I had the opportunity to collaborate with crustacean physiologist Dr. Sherry Tamone. Under her direction, I completed my first independent research project investigating the hormonal cues regulating the molt cycle of the female snow crab Chionoecetes opilio.

The project combined my passion for physiological research with marine biology, as I was able to work alongside Dr. Tamone on my own project as well as contribute to other students' projects in field sites like Glacier Bay National Park. The REU program was also a wonderful opportunity to meet other like-minded undergraduates with similar interests in both marine biology and the many implications of this field.

Mellissa handling crabs The NSF-REU program opened my eyes to the great research opportunities at UAS in the Biology program, because behind the Anderson Building we truly had a natural laboratory in our backyard. After completing the program, I decided it would be worthwhile to apply to the National Student Exchange program in order to return to Juneau and complete my undergraduate studies in the Biology Program.

Studying at UAS was like nothing I had experienced before. It was so great to be able to walk right outside the lab to collect marine organisms and learn about the marine environment. This was vastly different from my previous university, where we rarely interacted with the organisms we studied in zoology courses. Instead of just studying the phylogenetic tree in a textbook, I was able to view every lineage first hand through exploring the intertidal and scuba diving to investigate subtidal organisms.

It was also great to interact with students and other professors in classes that would contain around 15 students, instead of being lost in a crowd as often happened in my undergraduate university classes that were sometimes around 300 students. I was also able to continue my research with Dr. Tamone, which really made me feel ready for graduate school, as I was able to contribute to the experimental design of the project as well as address questions directly related to my interests in how thermal stress can affect marine invertebrates.

My experiences at UAS, first in the REU Program and then in the Biology Program, had a great impact on both my professional decisions and career focus. These experiences sparked my interests in marine organisms as research models and fostered my desire to further pursue research in marine animal physiology, studying the biochemical interactions between an organism and the ocean environment.

UPDATE: Mellissa is currently a PhD student in Biological Sciences at Stanford University.

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