Sarah Brewster

Did you receive any recognition (awards, publications, scholarship) for your applied learning experience?
NOAA Hollings Scholarship, Bolles Marine Biology Scholarship
Briefly describe your applied learning experience

In the spring of 2016, I began assiting a gradute student in Dr. Will White's lab. She was looking at the effects of aritifical selection based on maternal size on juvenile guppies, and so I helped with data collection (measuring and weight mothers and juveniles), tank maintenance, and daily feeding. I continued assisting in the lab through fall of 2016 until my semester abroad in the spring. This trip took me to Ecuador where I got to extend my marine biology education to the coast of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. There I got to take weekly dive trips, conduct surveys on local marine life, and gain a completely difference perspective of marine biology. On the islands, climate change is extremely evident and the ecosystems once rather pristine are slowly being degraded by its growing human population. The trip truly inspired me to pursue conservation options within the field. Coming back the States, I completed my NOAA Hollings internship at the James J. Howard Marine Laboratory in Sandy Hook, New Jersey the summer I returned. There, I worked with a small forage fish, Atlantic silverside, and fluctuating carbon dioxide regimes to investigate the effects of fluctuating conditions on the survival and growth on the early life stages of this fish. Once back at UNCW, I began my honors project with Dr. Stuart Borrett (sadly Dr. White left for a position at Oregon State). I am currently investigating the ecosystem effects of shrimp trawling in Core Sound, North Carolina using an emerging tool known as Ecological Network Analysis.

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

Starting sophomore year, I knew I wanted to get involved with research and begin enriching my experience at UNCW. I began reaching out to professors whose research interests sounded interesting to me and reflected where I may want to carry my own goals. I also took the HON 120: Survey of biological research to further explore some of the department's research sectors. Dr. White was one of the first professors I reached out to, and it turned out he and his graduate student at the time needed some help in the lab. Although I was hoping to get more experience working on a project of my own, I learned valuable lab skills during those couple of semesters. Around this time, my undergraduate career began to really take off - I started applying to internships and scholarship programs and began to advance in marine biology courses. Since the fall of 2016, I've been able to be part of several different lab teams, conduct two guided research projects, and even present my research at a couple of difference conferences. From that first step of helping in Dr. White's lab, I hoped to build my experience both in the lab and the field, and UNCW truly facilitated making it possible.  

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

The past four years have been no easy feat for sure, but have certainly been worth it. I've learned a number of techinques, such as handling juvenile fishes, seining, quadrat analysis, maintaining a lab and numberous tanks, programming in R, and species identification, building on experiences and applying these techniques to various components of my undergraduate career. This field without a doubt requires dedication and hard work, as my 13 hour work days at the NOAA lab and hours of studying may express. In meeting success with these experiences, my confidence and abilities have grown immensely over the past few years and I am curious to see what comes next. 

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

I now possess a rather well-rounded skill set within marine biology: experience with several laboratory procedures, collective data in the field, and an overall knowledge of marine ecosystems, organisms, and processes. Even more so, through my experiences I've learned how to work both independently and as a team, both of which are key components of success in science. I believe the opportunities I've had thus far at and through UNCW have shaped me to be a competitive candidate for positions in the field or a graduate program. At this time, however, I am not sure what my next steps will be or in which direction I wish to continue my work in marine biology, but when I figure it out I do not doubt my experiences will have prepared me well for it.