Reflecting on my Internship

I have had an amazing summer internship working with the USDA-ARS in Newport, OR. It has been a summer of adapting as we deal with the pandemic and wildfires here in Oregon. Newport has been safe from wildfires, but the smoke caused some eerie scenes last week. The picture below is right outside of Hatfield Marine Science Center housing. Looking out of the window seeing this when it was midday definitely made working difficult!

I am still glad that I was able to do some work in person while using social distancing protocols throughout the first half of the summer. The second half of my internship has been mostly working from home and doing data analysis with R statistical software. I am learning a lot about how to use R and I spend most of my time making plots of the data I am working with. Pictured below is a screenshot of some of the work I have been doing in R.

I am really grateful for my time at Hatfield Marine Science Center. I am working with some amazing scientists who I have learned a lot from and that in itself has been invaluable. I also really love the Oregon Coast! It has really made me think about my career path. I did not expect to enjoy my internship as much as I have so I feel like it has opened up another potential career path that I may be interested in pursing if working with coral reefs doesn’t work out for me.

Future Directions:

After I leave Newport, I will be heading to Reston, VA to do an internship with USGS. This internship will focus more on biogeochemistry of watersheds so it will be a totally different experience. I am also hoping to start applying to graduate schools next year so hopefully I will get into some programs! I will definitely be keeping Oregon in mind; I would like to spend more time here!

The Summer of Learning

What I have learned on the job:

This summer, I’ve been able to learn a lot about what it is like to work in a field setting and what all goes into it. I had not done much formal field work prior to this internship so; it has been nice to see how scientists operate in the field. I’ve learned how to collect different organisms and more about how to work on a boat as well.

I am also learning how to use R statistical software and I’ve come a long way from where I was at the beginning of my internship although there is still a lot to learn. My project supervisor has helped me immensely when it comes to R and I have learned so much more about it from her than I did through my undergraduate courses. It is helpful to work with actual data and be given the time necessary to work through R that I haven’t had up until this point.

Being able to work with government scientists has allowed me to learn about what it’s like to be a scientist in a non-academic setting. Since I eventually want to be a government scientist, this has definitely made this area of work less mysterious to me. I also feel my supervisors have done really well at including me in their process of research as a whole. In past internships and positions, my supervisors often didn’t include me in certain aspects of the work and I’ve often felt I was left out of the loop or didn’t understand fully what I was working towards. My internship this summer has been quite the opposite and I’m grateful for that as it has allowed me to understand more how research works.

Surprising aspects of my work:

Surprisingly, I like field work more than lab work. I didn’t think I would feel this way because field work is labor intensive and exhausting but, as the summer went on, I found myself wanting to be in the field vs. the lab or working from home. I was sure I’d be loving spending my time in the lab but that ended up not being the case for me.

I also realized how little I really knew about operating boats or working on boats. As part of my project, I have worked on boats several times to collect minnow traps of staghorn sculpin. Below, there is a picture of my self pulling up one of these traps. Although I’ve been a passenger on boats many times in my life, I had never even tied a boat to a dock, so this was a learning curve for me. As an aspiring marine biologist, I feel I should definitely make an effort to learn how to operate a boat so that is a new goal for me.

What I might have done differently:

I might have utilized my free time better and explored Newport more. I’m coming close to the end of my internship and trying to cram a lot of exploring into my last few weeks. I do wish I would’ve gone out and explored more than I have but, I still have time left so I will be cherishing it.

For my internship itself, I don’t think I would’ve done much differently. I’ve been able to learn a lot in my short time here. I’ve also been going to all the webinars that I’m able to and working on my professional goals as well.

One thing I might have done differently is scheduling more meetings with other Sea Grant scholars from the beginning so we could have gotten to know each other more. Other than that, I have had a fantastic experience with Oregon Sea Grant.

The role of science policy with the USDA-ARS in Newport, OR

Science policy with the USDA-ARS

My understanding of science policy has changed as I’ve been able to see how government organizations like the USDA-ARS are working with the public or industries like the oyster aquaculture industry in the Pacific Northwest.

For the project I’ve been working on, the USDA-ARS has partnered with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and researchers from Oregon State University among scientists from other organizations. They are all working on a project that has a purpose of improving shellfish aquaculture while simultaneously preserving the local environment. In this situation, government entities are working with members of the shellfish aquaculture industry to come up with sustainable solutions that will benefit both people and the environment.

I have come to understand that in Oregon, there are a lot of partnerships between scientists both from universities and government organizations to fisheries. The coastal waters are very productive so they are an area of interest for research and for fishing industries. Since their work is inherently tied to the fishing industries, it is important for scientists to make connections with local fishing groups.

My involvement in science policy

I personally have not been involved in science policy processes such as agency-level meetings, but I have been able to make observations from listening to the scientists I work with and reading research articles. I definitely think it is very important for scientists to work with policy makers and the public to come up with well-rounded solutions that benefit communities and the environment. In the future, I would like to work as a government scientist taking into consideration the public and local industries when informing policy related to research.

A day in the life of Natalie Holsclaw

In case you haven’t seen my other blog posts, this summer I am interning with researchers from the USDA-ARS. We are studying estuary ecosystems related to shellfish aquaculture. Most of our work involves burrowing shrimp because they are considered pests in shellfish aquaculture.

I am a little over two weeks into my internship and so far, I have worked a bit in a field setting collecting burrowing shrimp. I also spent some time in the lab measuring and processing the shrimp. Most of my time has been working remotely reading various scientific articles and beginning my journey using R statistical software.

My daily routine:

My routine varies depending on what’s going on. When I work from home, I typically wake up around 7 and start working around 8. I usually start my day checking/answering emails and then I’ll move to a combination of reading and taking notes on scientific articles and going through a guidebook to R. This is my at home work space:

 I’ll take breaks throughout the day to eat and move around some by taking short walks or doing yoga. I’ll typically stop doing work related activities around 5 or 6 in the evening. Below is a picture from one of my walks at Hatfield Marine Science Center:

When we do field work, this involves spending the day or days in mud flats of estuaries collecting data, shrimp, and staghorn sculpin. Subsequent days after we do field work are spent going through these samples and data as well as entering the data into Excel sheets.

Every Friday I have a virtual lab meeting with members of my supervisor’s lab. Starting last week, I also have weekly Friday afternoon meetings with scientists outside the lab I’m working with along with my supervisor and other interns. These meetings are related to ocean acidification which is one of my areas of interest.  

The downside of working during COVID-19:

I think the major downside of working during the pandemic is the lack of human contact. I feel like because we are unable to work in person as much and many people aren’t able to at all, this causes many missed opportunities to meet other interns and scientists.

Since I’m specifically working at Hatfield Marine Science Center, I feel like normally outside of COVID-19 times, I would have tons of interaction with other interns and scientists but that just isn’t possible right now.

The upside of working during COVID-19:

The major upside of working during the pandemic for me is the flexibility of it. I am able to work at my own pace when I’m at home and take breaks whenever I need to. This has allowed me to attend virtual seminars I may not typically get to attend. I am also able to work at times that are best for me and am not restricted to a typical work schedule.

My first day in the field

My first day working in the field also happened to be my first day working in person with researchers of the USDA-ARS. I woke up at the not so bright and early time of 4 am and I left at 5 am for Tillamook Bay. This was a two-hour drive and we started with field work right away at 7 am to take advantage of the low tide.

We donned our waders and lugged all of our gear to the mud flats. These mud flats are thick and sandy making it quite difficult to walk through, some areas being more difficult than others. I definitely fell and got stuck in the mud multiple times.

Part of the area we worked in was previously used as oyster aquaculture, pictured below is PVC pipes oyster lines were attached to.

We collected different species of burrowing shrimp, one of the mud shrimps I found is shown below.

My first day in the field may have been difficult but it was very cool to see the species I’m studying in their natural habitat. Although the drive was long and early, it was beautiful getting to see the Oregon coast along the way.

Goals for the summer to the bigger picture: Working with the USDA-ARS

My position for the summer:

This summer I am working with the USDA-ARS in Newport, OR. I am just getting started so much of my current work duties involve training. I anticipate that my primary responsibilities will involve field work. I will likely assist other researchers in the lab that I’m working with in their collection and monitoring of burrowing shrimp and staghorn sculpin populations located in estuaries along the Oregon and Washington coasts.

This project is a part of larger project to find possible biological controls of burrowing shrimp which are considered a pest of oyster aquaculture. Typically, chemical pesticides are used to control their populations but, they are moving away from this attempting to find more sustainable/environmentally friendly population controls. I will help the lab I’m working with reach this goal by collecting raw data that is necessary for the project. I may help with data analysis as well.

Looking at the bigger picture:

Since Oregon Sea Grant’s vision involves “thriving coastal communities and ecosystems” this project will directly help advance those goals. Local shellfish aquaculture is a major source of income and livelihood for coastal communities in the Pacific Northwest. Burrowing shrimp pests negatively impact this industry causing oyster mortality so, for many years chemical pesticides have been used to control their populations. There have been concerns on the environmental impacts of these pesticides so certain chemicals have been discontinued and oyster growers are working with scientists to find a better solution to control burrowing shrimp populations that will allow the shellfish aquaculture industry thrive while simultaneously allowing coastal ecosystems to thrive.

Since the mission of the USDA involves providing leadership for agriculture based on science and management, this project will hopefully provide the scientific background to efficiently manage burrowing shrimp populations allowing for better shellfish aquaculture practices along the Oregon and Washington coasts.