I joined the Childress Lab spring semester 2014 as a volunteer laboratory technician. At the time, I was about eight months into my gap year from graduating the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a B.S. in Marine Biology and Environmental Science and a minor in chemistry. Needless to say I was a tad burned out by the end of my senior year of undergrad so I chose to take a year off for myself before pursuing graduate school. At the start of my year, I contacted and applied to graduate schools and obtained a short-termed scientific diving job. However, eight months out, I was living at home, and was in need of something to preoccupy my day with so I linked up with a local dive shop to increase my diving experience. It was that one step that changed the rest of my gap year for the better. Through SCUBA, I met Kylie Smith, an open water SCUBA instructor and a master’s degree student at Clemson University studying ecological dynamics between parrotfish, corals, and macroalgae in the middle Florida Keys. After speaking with her for a while and meeting with Dr. Childress, I officially became part of the lab. I was willing and ready to take on anything they asked of me because it meant that I was staying involved with a lab and being a science-nerd, it also meant I was having fun. I spent a good part of my time in front of a computer analyzing images taken in the field and estimating coral area, perimeter, and macroalgae abundance to better understand what was happening to the corals Kylie and her previous research team transplanted on the reefs.
In March, I was finally able to see first hand what the reef environment in all of the photographs truly looked liked by traveling to the Keys to help with Kylie’s research. Since I was the newbie, I carefully observed and assisted when I needed to and learned to identify the various parrotfish species that reside on the reefs. Although we had a few misfortunes (spun propeller, crazy winds, huge waves, and Portuguese Man-O-War) that prevented us from visiting all of the sites; even on the worst day, I couldn’t help but to smile and enjoy my time there. Nothing beats being out on the water with a great team of people.
From the Keys, we drove to Jacksonville, FL to attend the 2014 Benthic Ecology Meeting (BEM). From my research experience as an undergraduate I heard how great of an opportunity the BEM was so I was honored and thrilled to be attending with the Clemson/Childress crew. I conversed with several members of the marine science community, presented a poster on the coral transplant data, and listened to various research focused oral presentations. The last day of the conference was very entertaining as we were able to tour the Science and History Museum in downtown Jacksonville, mingle, and enjoy dinner and dancing on the roof of the museum.
When we returned to Clemson, I was asked what my favorite part of the trip was…my reply: “Diving on the reef and dancing on the roof.” However, in all honesty my favorite part was everything. My opportunities in the lab have not only allowed me to stay busy and have fun with marine biology, it has allowed me to enhance my lab, field, and diving skills as well as make friends with a great group of people. Although, I am not sure where I will be by the end of this year, be it as close as attending graduate school in Charleston or as far as New Zealand, I will always be able to look back on my experience in the Childress lab and smile.