Derek Detweiler

Briefly describe your applied learning experience

I work in Dr. Ai Ning Loh's organic geochemistry lab at the UNCW Center for Marine Science where I am completing my Honors thesis in oceanography. More specifically, I am quantifying the amount of carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen that salt marsh sediments either release or sequester on a daily basis; I am comparing these processes between seasons and between vegetated and non-vegetated sediments. I do this by conducting field work in the salt marsh; I collect water samples from enclosed chambers while high tide transitions to low tide. In the lab, I do a lot of work with analyzing the samples, synthesizing the data, and mathematically determining how much carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen is either released or sequestered in a given day. This experience has also been filled with a lot of proposal writing, grant writing, and presenting.

Did you receive any grants or other funding for your applied learning experience?
How did you get involved in this applied learning experience and what did you hope to gain from it?

I took a course with Dr. Loh in Fall 2014 and became familiar with her research. After doing a class-related project with her in the lab, I became incredibly interested in the questions her lab sought to answer. I talked with her about doing my Honors thesis with her, and she immediately guided me towards producing a valid scientific question and developing an experiment to answer that question. From this experience, I hoped to gain practical skills in scientific research that would prepare me for a career in the sciences. I hoped to develop professionalism, confidence, and expertise (as much as an undergraduate could possibly know) about a topic I was passionate about.  

What did you gain from this experience? What was challenging? What did you learn?

I gained everything I hoped to gain and much more! A pleasant surprise was all of the opportunities that seemed to appear right in front of me while doing an Honors thesis. I received funding for my project, a research fellowship, a travel award (I get to present my research in New Orleans!), and many connections that I was able to make as a result of doing research with Dr. Loh. I feel as if I was ahead of the game in terms of finding a graduate school adviser or finding someone who could write me a letter of recommendation. This is not to say this experience was not challenging. It requires a lot of time in the lab and a lot of time at a desk. From researching primary literature to writing the final product, it is a stressful experience that is well worth all the work that is put into it. Overall, I learned that in order to make the best of the college experience, it is necessary to go after what you are looking for and to initiate every interaction with other faculty and students. Take every opportunity and work your hardest; as a result, the rewards will present themselves. Also, I learned that I do indeed love doing science.

In what way will this experience make you a more viable candidate when you are seeking a job or applying for graduate study?

I think this experience makes me a more viable candidate because it is not something a lot of students do. I think that I am ahead of the game in terms of gaining practical skills in all aspects of the field. This experience has greatly enhanced my writing, reading, and public speaking skills that makes me appear more professional, more ambitious, and more advanced than other students. It shows that I voluntarily challenged myself during my undergraduate career and worked to get the most out of four years in school. It highlights my ability to take initiative, complete tasks thoroughly, and expect a high standard of excellence for myself.