BIOS’s Ocean Academy Opens Doors of Opportunity

Two former BIOS Bermuda Program interns are now working as research interns through the support of a philanthropic sponsor and the Institute’s Curriculum Enrichment Program. The research internships are providing valuable opportunities for ongoing skills development both in preparation for and during the undergraduate careers of Marcus Rewan (shown here) and Jihad Muhammad. Rewan, 21, returned to the lab of his Bermuda Program mentor, microbial oceanographer Rachel Parsons, in September 2022. Responsible for carrying out a variety of microscopy protocols, Rewan will work in Parsons’ lab through May 2023, during which time he will also be taking remote classes at Mount Saint Vincent University in Canada.

Through the generous support of a philanthropic sponsor, two BIOS Bermuda Program alumni are continuing to develop valuable scientific laboratory techniques and research skills outside of the Institute’s annual summer internship program. Jihad Muhammad, 22, and Marcus Rewan, 21, are working as part-time research interns through the BIOS Curriculum Enrichment Program.

Under the mentorship of BIOS faculty and scientific staff, both Muhammad and Rewan are building on the knowledge they gained during their previous activities at BIOS while they work toward furthering their academic careers.

Jihad Muhammad, 22, also returned to work with his Bermuda Program mentor, comparative physiologist and biological oceanographer Amy Maas. Since June 2022, he has been continuing work with Maas and research technician Hannah Gossner on a project investigating the effects of ocean acidification on the shells of pteropods, a group of swimming marine snails.

Pteropods and “a Ton of Patience”

Muhammad joined BIOS in fall 2021 as part of the Ocean Academy Saturday Intern Program, which offered students enrolled at Bermuda College the unique opportunity to receive paid internships while contributing to four ongoing research projects at the Institute.

The following year, in summer 2022, he returned to BIOS as a Bermuda Program intern. Beginning in June, he worked alongside comparative physiologist and biological oceanographer Amy Maas on a project investigating the effects of ocean acidification on the shells of pteropods, a group of swimming marine snails. His work on this project developed a protocol for taking images of pteropod shells, which is contributing to a monitoring project run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Project on the U.S. East Coast.

Currently, as a research intern, Muhammad is back working with Maas and BIOS research technician Hannah Gossner helping to process samples and analyze data for the pteropod project. Once his classes finish in the spring, Maas is hoping to be able to take him out to sea as part of a research team aboard the BIOS-operated research vessel Atlantic Explorer.

“Handling the delicate pteropod shells and getting good pictures of them to analyze their shell quality takes a ton of patience and I have left him independently generating that data this semester,” Maas said. “Jihad is interested in gaining a wide range of skills and expanding his knowledge of all of the ecosystems of Bermuda. We are trying to give him opportunities to get a taste of all of the work that we do and expose him to a range of techniques.”

For Muhammad, who is in the process of getting his associates degree in marine biology, the opportunity to work at BIOS has been impactful and one that he would recommend to other aspiring students looking for careers in the field.

“I’m able to learn about aspects of the ocean that I’m interested in, as well as meet and work with people that share my enthusiasm in the process,” he said.

Microbes and “Self-Motivation”

Rewan started his career at BIOS in 2013, at the age of 11, learning how to dive through the Institute’s Ocean Academy and eventually working his way up to a rescue diver certification. After completing the Marine Science Internship in 2017, he returned in summer 2019 as a Bermuda Program intern. Rewan worked with microbial oceanographer Rachel Parsons on a project investigating the role of aggregations of organic matter, called “marine snow,” in the ocean carbon cycle.

In summer 2021, Rewan returned as a Bermuda Program intern and was named as one of two Bermuda Program Gray Interns based on his academic merit, leadership potential, and ability to serve as an ambassador for BIOS education programs throughout Bermuda’s communities. He continued working with Parsons, this time looking at the microbial community associated with marine aggregates.

Since September 2022, he’s been working 20 hours each week in Parsons’ lab, or with “Team Microbe” as she affectionately calls it, to gain additional hands-on experience before he leaves to attend Mount Saint Vincent University in Canada. Rewan, who plans to major in biology, will begin taking courses remotely in January 2023 and will continue working with Parsons through the end of May.

While some undergraduates may find this schedule daunting, he finds it to be an ideal situation. “This is great because I will have the opportunity to work with Rachel and other scientists in the lab gaining more scientific knowledge that I can later implement to help their overall research,” he said.

Currently, Rewan has a variety of responsibilities that assist Team Microbe, including processing bacterial abundance samples on the microscope for several time-series projects. He is also learning a variety of other protocols, including culturing, qPCR (a method of finding out how much of a specific section of DNA there is in a sample, in real time), viral abundance, DNA extractions, and data analysis.

“Marcus is one of those rare students who thinks for himself and can be trusted to keep his own schedule,” Parsons said. “He is great on the microscope and had the self-motivation to learn how to use the inverted microscope, so next year he will help work with that. In addition, he is professionally designing BIOS-SCOPE shirts and taking photos for the lab’s social media accounts. He has a good eye, and I am relying on his expertise.”

Naming Rewan a Bermuda Program Gray Intern due to his potential to serve as an ambassador for BIOS education programs was definitely the right decision.

“BIOS has been a hub of scientific knowledge for me since I was young and it has truly made my life much more exciting,” he said. “I constantly share what I learn with others and people are often intrigued. I think every program at BIOS has something interesting and new for people to learn and provides a chance to get hands-on experience with ocean science.”

The Mentors Matter

In addition to being Bermuda Program graduates, Muhammad and Rewan share another connection: Bermuda College. Specifically, Amy Harvey, an earth and environmental science lecturer, and the driving force behind the creation of the marine science program.

Harvey began working with Bermuda College in 2007 and made early contact with the education and scientific staff at BIOS in order to provide her students with an opportunity to experience the natural environment first-hand. Since then, many of Harvey’s students have gone on to become Bermuda Program interns.

BIOS faculty and scientific staff such as Gossner, Maas, and Parsons also play a crucial role as mentors in Bermuda’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and career training pipeline.

“During my time at BIOS, Rachel has been an invaluable mentor for the Bermuda Program and Ocean Academy at large,” said Kaitlin Noyes, BIOS director of education and community engagement. “She has dedicated countless hours to designing projects, training students, and encouraging them to become better researchers. Many of her students have gone on to thrive in professions ranging from medicine to re-insurance. Rachel has trained a legacy of talented Bermudians that always remember their valuable time working at BIOS as a part of ‘Team Microbe.’”

Her interns feel the same way.

“Rachel has been such a great help since the first internship I had with her,” Rewan said. “Her heartwarming personality and positive energy are infectious in the lab and she pulls the best out of everyone. Working with Rachel I feel the sky is the limit because she’s always open to innovative ideas and is always willing to help other people turn their ideas into reality.”

Applications for the 2023 BIOS Bermuda Program are now being accepted.