My name is Grant Gallaher, and I am a senior studying Biology, Environmental Studies, and Chemistry with particular interests in ecology and environmental justice. This summer, I interned with the UC Irvine Sorte Lab studying the effects of anthropogenic climate change on the intertidal ecosystems of Sitka, Alaska.
Over a total of a six month period, the lab is manipulating tide pools to simulate climate change conditions predicted for the year 2100 (warming of +2°C, acidification of -0.4 pH units). We are observing how temperature and CO2 independently and simultaneously impact water chemistry, nutrient cycling, and biodiversity within the pools (look up NSF award #1756173 for more details). My responsibilities include daily maintenance of the hardware that adds heat and CO2 to the pools, participating in monthly intensive sampling events, and analyzing data for my senior thesis. Beyond developing many practical research skills in data collection methods, statistics coding, and proposal writing, one of the most valuable gifts this summer internship has given me is a glimpse into the many directions that my future as a biologist could become.
With applications for jobs, fellowships, and graduate programs looming on the horizon, I am already steeling myself for the inevitable (albeit well-intentioned) interrogation from relatives, professors, and acquaintances: What are your plans for after college? I have always struggled to answer these questions in a way that is satisfying for anyone involved, least of all for myself. For me, a key part of figuring out what I want to do in the future is gathering information about all the different possibilities. I have to have information about my options to make an informed decision; this seems obvious but doesn’t always feel that way.
A quintessential benefit of an internship is the opportunity to shadow, work with, and learn from professionals in your field of interest. This hands-on experience with someone who has been there and is doing it is invaluable in deciding whether you want to pursue a similar path. This summer, my internship with the Sorte Lab has exposed me to a whole variety of supervisors and co-workers who have taken diverse academic, professional, and personal paths to get to where they are today.
The people I am working directly with this summer include:
- Two recent college graduates using their marine biology degrees to work as field technicians while preparing to apply for graduate programs.
- A PhD candidate studying invertebrate metabolism and evolution who first completed a separate masters program.
- A PhD candidate studying algae who worked as a field technician for several years before going straight into a doctorate program.
- Two PIs (Principal Investigators) of the project who are both tenured professors at UC Irvine.
From looking at just these six people, there are clearly many different pathways of education, research topics, and work experiences that have led them to intersect with me in Sitka this summer. It was particularly fascinating to pick each person’s brain about graduate school given that Whitman doesn’t have a graduate student presence on campus. Collectively, this group represents pre-, mid-, and post-graduate school perspectives, giving me a multifaceted picture of what I could expect if I do decide to apply someday. Another neat insight is that PI Cascade Sorte, my direct supervisor, graduated from Whitman as a member of the Class of 1999. This really made me consider the long term: where will my path lead me by 2040?
In the end, I won’t follow in the exact footsteps of any of these people. There is no cookie-cutter blueprint for how to move through this world as a scientist. However, in following my compass into the future, the lessons learned from and examples set by each of these individuals will help me make informed decisions that best align with my passions and goals. Furthermore, I have been lucky enough that some of these people have become amazing friends along the way. I am incredibly grateful to have learned so much from everyone this summer and to be able to use this experience to narrow in on where I want to go and how I am going to get there.
Experiences like Grant Gallaher’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Mitzy Rodriguez