Road to Research


First Internship with the Science Exchange in Punta Banco, Costa Rica.

As a scientist many people have different paths, but rarely do we talk about them. So I thought I would start with the straight forward question...What got me into research?

During the summer after 2nd grade our teacher asked us to keep a daily journal and I remember taking down notes about the semi-webbed toes my dog had, making 'scientific illustations' while hypothesizing about the use of webbed toes for swimming. I didn't realize it at the time but, I was taking my very first field notes.

Fast forward to undergrad where I entered as an undeclared major student. I knew I was interested in pursuing a Biology degree, but I was intimidated by the thought of being in an impacted major.

When I finally declared a Biology major, my intended path was to become a Veterinarian. Since at the time I didn't realize there were there since jobs other than those in the medical field.

Classes were hard and I definitely had to retake a class or two ( Organic Chemistry will always beguile me). Even though I was having a tough time of it I was making the grades to stay in the program. I went one day during summer to speak to a biology advisor to get help putting together my next semester and unfortunately I was met with negativity. The advisor told me I should look into changing majors since he didn't think I would make it though the Biology program due to my struggles in the lower division courses there is no way I would make it through the others needed to graduate. I left the office close to tears and cried my way back home.

A week after this encounter I received an email from a internship with the Science Exchange that I had applied to do ecological research Costa Rica with sea turtles. I had had applied thinking that it would give me more volunteer time with exotic animals to make my veterinary school application stronger. I had not only received the internship, but also the accompanying scholarship for the summer. I was feeling low about my academics at this point, but decided to take the opportunity and see what happened following summer.

I ended up loving doing field research! New adventures of every day, observing natural patterns and trying to find out the workings of relationships long established. I came back from my internship in love with Ecology. I felt like I had found a method of using my inquisitive nature to solve larger scale questions about nature and relationships, in comparison to those being required of me to memorize in class.

I decided to take my learning farther than the classroom. I began volunteering at the San Diego Natural History Museum and got myself involved in a lab. When I started at the SDNHM I first started with Herpetology (Snakes, Lizards, and Amphibians oh my!) since I had worked with turtles previously. I soon realized that the animals I was working with weren't my passion and I felt like I was hitting a wall again with my motivation.

As school began I tried to get into the Herpetology class since I knew the organisms and figured it would be a good way to raise my GPA. But, the class was full and I got stuck in Terrestrial Arthropods (the class focused on Insects +Arachnids). During the first week of class there was a grad student in an Insect Ecology lab who came in looking for undergrad researchers, I tracked her down after class and I decided to take the leap into the lab.

I helped in lab doing hours of painstaking insect identifications during the fall and then even longer hot field days during summer. I worked hard in lab and it started paying off when the professor I was working with gave me the option to opt for a undergraduate thesis during my final semester rather than more assistant hours. I doing an undergraduate thesis I learned that making a question and developing a way to test it was one of the hardest thing a scientist could do, next to analysis of course.

I graduated with two degrees, a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Spanish. I was finished with school, but I was not ready to leave southern California mainly due to a relationship that had been holding me back. I decided to apply to grad school the next year if I didn't find a position in the biology field. Year passed and I was still in the same receptionist position I was in the year previous. I had been still working with my mentor from undergrad and moved to the Entomology (Insect) department at the SDNHM, but I didn't feel like I was reaching my full potential.

So I applied to grad school, just like I said I would. I applied to three schools. A safety school, a school that I though was right at my level and a reach school. I ended up at San Francisco State and could not be happier with where I ended up.

I am now in an Insect Ecology lab where I look at insect/plant interactions that have real world applications to food crops. I feel like I finally found my science happy place where I am making strides toward a life long career in the sciences. I still have my days where I doubt myself, but the long days in the lab although tiring. I never cease to be excited about the new information I can get from the next experiment and how it can be applied in the real world.

To follow along in real time you can follow me on Instagram: @the_sci_life or on Twitter: @the_sci_life