Five Years, Five Students—and a Fine Paper to Show

in situ coral experiment

Photo by Andrew Collins.

Since its beginning in 1903 as a field station for students and scientists at Harvard University and New York University, BIOS has hosted hundreds of students from colleges and universities around the world. Over the years, students conducting research at BIOS have used their experiences as springboards for acceptance into graduate degree programs, a variety of technical and research positions (both at BIOS and abroad), and—frequently—a scientific publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

BIOS coral scientist Samantha de Putron, a frequent mentor to visiting students, recently celebrated such an accomplishment with not one but five student co-authors. Their paper, “Variation in larval properties of the Atlantic brooding coral, Porites astreoides, between different reef sites in Bermuda,” published in the January 2017 issue of the journal Coral Reefs. De Putron shares authorship with Julia Lawson, Kascia White, Matthew Costa, Miriam Geronimus, and Anne McCarthy.

The paper describes the work of de Putron and her co-authors, who studied coral larvae released at both offshore rim reef and inshore patch reef locations around Bermuda for five years, beginning in 2008. In a comparison of larval physical characteristics, the authors found significant variability between locations in larval size and settlement success (the rate at which the larvae were able to attach to a surface, such as a rock, and survive).

While the science has implications for coral population dynamics and resilience in a changing ocean environment, the authors also have a dynamic story. The five co-authors were all interns at BIOS during the five-year study period, representing four different summer internship programs. For de Putron, and all researchers who mentor students at BIOS, this paper is evidence of the impact that student researchers can have on long-term scientific investigations, and the impact that participating in such research can have on young people.

“This research was a lot of fun and also a lot of hard work and it would not have been possible without the dedication of these student researchers and their funding,” said de Putron. “Having the research published shows its importance to the scientific community. However, seeing how the students learn and develop during the internships, and knowing how the experiences have been used as a springboard to launch a desired career path, is just as rewarding.”

Julia Lawson
Lawson, the first co-author on the paper, was a student at Dalhousie University in Canada when she spent the summers of 2008 and 2009 at BIOS with financial support from the Canadian Associates of BIOS (CABIOS). After graduating from Dalhousie, Lawson went on to obtain a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia, where she worked to develop a global estimate of the number of seahorses taken annually as commercial fishing bycatch. Currently, she is a doctoral student at the University of California Santa Barbara, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, where she is studying marine conservation, policy, and fisheries.

“This project was the first hands-on research experience I had in my career,” Lawson said. “Having this particular work published means a lot to me. My experience at BIOS prepared me well for where I am today.”

Kascia White
White worked for de Putron for six years as part of the BIOS Bermuda Program. Her undergraduate thesis at St. Mary’s University in Canada, which focused on the effects of ocean acidification on Porites astreodes, grew from work conducted in de Putron’s lab. She went on to graduate in 2015 from Dalhousie University with a master’s degree in marine management, where her research focused on management approaches to fisheries with limited data sets, specifically, the Bermuda snapper. She has since returned to Bermuda and is currently working as an aquarist at the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo.

“When I began working in Sam’s lab as a 15-year-old intern, I never thought that the work I was doing would eventually lead me to co-author a scientific paper,” White said. “Having my first paper published was surreal at first, but it has motivated me to want to do more.”

Matthew Costa
Costa first came to BIOS in the summer of 2009 as a student in the Princeton-BIOS marine biology course, then returned the following summer as a Princeton Environmental Institute intern with de Putron. He spent his third summer at BIOS conducting research on mangrove species zonation for his undergraduate thesis, which was funded through Princeton’s Mountlake Field Research Fund.  Costa is currently a doctoral student in biological oceanography at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego.

“As a doctoral student, the paper being published is great news, as I’m in the early stage of my research career,” Costa said. “This research has a fundamental place in my science career because it was the first serious research project in which I was involved.”

Miriam Geronimus
Like Costa, Geronimus initially came to BIOS as a student in the Princeton-BIOS summer marine biology course, and returned as a senior thesis intern in 2011 through the Princeton-BIOS student summer internship program. She used her experience to gain insights into science and is now studying to become a rabbi at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Pennsylvania.

“Not many clergy have a background in science, or have done scientific research, and I believe my experiences give me an added lens through which to understand the world, interact with my congregants, and work for environmental and climate justice,” she said.

Anne McCarthy
McCarthy came to BIOS during the summer of 2014 for a 10-week internship funded by the Galbraith/Wardman Fellowship, which supports one student from Eckerd College, in Florida, each year as a summer research intern. She graduated from Eckerd in 2016 with a degree in marine science and is currently at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas for a five-month internship working with the reef ecology team investigating the use of crabs in cleaning biofouling algae from aquaculture cages and assessing the status of the local parrotfish fishery.

“I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m passionate about communicating science and spreading awareness about the importance of marine ecosystems,” McCarthy said. “I’m excited this research is getting published and will be shared with others.”