Student Research Profile: Sean Richards

Here at PUC, biology students have countless opportunities to get involved with research, oftentimes working alongside professors on projects. Programs are specially curated to not only prepare students academically but also to equip them with real-world experience for success in future endeavors.

Here’s one student’s experience and how they feel PUC helped prepare them.

Who are you?

I am Sean Richards, and I am a senior biology major. I plan to go on to graduate school in marine biology to specialize in invertebrate conservation.

What did you do?

I participated in a research trip with Dr. Hayes to study the commensal associations between different species of urchins, invertebrates, and fish. During this time, I was responsible for taking photos as well as counting urchin individuals, with and without associating organisms.

When and where did you do this work?

This research opportunity took place in January 2019 off the coasts of Cabo San Lucas, in the Gulf of California.

What did you learn?

I learned an immense amount on this trip. Though swimming in a wetsuit for multiple hours in a day can be tiring, it is well worth the effort. I saw several species of pufferfish, pipefish, and eels I had only read about or seen in captivity up until that point. It was also interesting to peek into each crevice to find different species hiding within the urchin’s spines for protection. From this, I learned much about underwater photography, the collection of density measurements, as well as the resources available for fish/invertebrate identification.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?

The classes immediately come to mind for me are those of General Biology, Ecology, and Marine Biology. From these classes, I learned an enormous amount about the writing of scientific papers, animal anatomy, as well as the mindset goes into doing this kind of research. Also, students at PUC are lucky enough to have a department that routinely offers research opportunities in a variety of areas.

Student Research Profile: Caroline Hogan

Here at PUC, biology students have countless opportunities to get involved with research, oftentimes working alongside professors on projects. Programs are specially curated to not only prepare students academically but also to equip them with real-world experience for success in future endeavors.

Here’s one student’s experience and how they feel PUC helped prepare them.

Who are you?

I am Caroline Hogan, and I am a junior environmental studies major. I plan to go into the Navy or to get my master’s degree in forestry and ecology.

What did you do?

I did an internship involving the study on the impact the October 2017 fires had on the plant and tree growth on my burned property. The mission was to count and record the impact the Nuns Fire had on the property and to see if any of the trees like oak and Douglas-fir were able to recover from being burned as well as the degree of life that the survivors had.

When and where did you do this work?

My research internship was for eight months on my property in Sonoma Valley in Sonoma County.

What did you learn?

There were so many things I learned when doing this research project I never knew were not in the norm for an internship. Much of the work was in the field and involved a lot of hiking and charting down every single individual tree and shrub inhabited the heavily wooded five-acre property. I learned how to chart and map the trees and plants properly, how to identify them in their burnt state. I also learned how to write up a report on the trees for the insurance company and client. As well as how to deal with a client professionally and how to work with multiple different people, agencies, insurance agents, and lawyers.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?

I am an environmental studies major, so the class Natural History of California helped prepare me to identify the plants and trees that were difficult to identify due to their burnt state. Intro to GIS as well helped me immensely because I learned how to properly use a GPS to map out the entire property and every individual tree. Professor Wyrick also helped me with her knowledge of the native plants of California and how to identify them and gave me tips on how to determine what they were when they were unrecognizable.

Student Research Profile: Antonio Robles

Here at PUC, biology students have countless opportunities to get involved with research, oftentimes working alongside professors on projects. Programs are specially curated to not only prepare students academically but also to equip them with real-world experience for success in future endeavors.

Here’s one student’s experience and how they feel PUC helped prepare them.

Who are you?

I am Antonio Robles, and I am a junior biology major. I am currently a pre-medicine student looking at research opportunities in the medical field or in marine biology.

What did you do?

I participated in research with Dr. Hayes by studying the symbiotic associations of urchins in the Sea of Cortez. Most were done by natural observations by counting holes with the urchins and writing down every species seen in the hole. In the summer, I also participated in neuroscience research with Dr. Sung. I was in charge of finding a way to stain the C. elegans tissue to link possible neurological damage due to overconsumption of food to dementia.

When and where did you do this work?

In the summer of 2018, I spent 11 weeks working with the C. elegans alongside Dr. Sung. This was all spent in the microbiology lab at PUC. In the first week of January 2019, I spent working with Dr. Hayes gather data for the associations with urchins in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

What did you learn?

From both experiences, I learned about the helpful scientific community and how to use certain equipment. Specifically, with Dr. Sung, I was able to communicate with successful research scientists in Switzerland through the internet to come up with an apparatus that would allow the staining and slicing of C. elegans. This cooperation was a highlight as it allowed me to move forward in my research while seeing how there is always collaboration in science. In addition, I learned how to use cryostats, different types of microscopes, micropipettes, and other tools. With Dr. Hayes, I learned the hard work it takes to do fieldwork and how to record data in computers. Each night Dr. Hayes would spend hours adding all the observations in Excel and being able to observe was a great experience.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?

Taking the Biological Foundations sequence helped me be familiar with lab tools such as the microscope and micropipette. In addition, it gave me the ground foundations for knowing about the brain and the importance of C. elegans for science. Intro to Research Methods II was very helpful in the way we approach research. This allowed me to know how to contact different researchers around the world to collaborate and it also gave me the opportunity to receive a grant for the research in Mexico on urchins. Past experiences with Dr. Hayes doing research in Clear Lake and Roatán, Honduras, also allowed me to be ready.

Student Research Profile: Charidan Jackson and Zoe Morphis

Zoe and Charidan (pictured) used a piece of flannel to collect ticks from the outdoors to determine their distribution patterns.

Meet Charidan Jackson and Zoe Morphis, who conducted a research project at PUC last year studying ticks in Albion and at the college’s Albion Field Station. Charidan graduated from PUC last year and is now getting her master’s at California State University, Long Beach, while Zoe is studying biology at PUC and intends to go to veterinary school after graduation.

Who are you?
I’m Charidan Jackson, and I’m a first-year master student at California State University, Long Beach. I plan to obtain a degree in biology and work as a forensic scientist.

I’m Zoe Morphis and I’m a biology major. I plan to go to vet school to become a licensed veterinarian.

What did you do?
We worked with Dr. Ness to survey the population density of ticks in Angwin and the Albion Field Station. We were responsible for taking collections, logging GPS locations, and recording other physical and biological information about each site. This was the beginning stages of a research project to study the prevalence of Lyme disease in the local tick populations and involved development of research methods as well as collecting preliminary samples.

When and where did you do this work?
The research was done during spring and fall quarters of 2017. We focused on collecting in areas of Angwin and Albion frequented by humans such as the back 40 and trails with plant growth on either side.

What did you learn?
Charidan: From our data collection, we learned Angwin is prime habitat for ticks. We saw differences in species, developmental stage, and sex. Collecting ticks was not difficult because they come toward humans and other warm-blooded animals. Ticks are especially active in warmer and slightly moist environments. Although we did not initially aim to collect data specifically on the plant matter ticks were found on, we noticed that more ticks were found on invasive species such as French broom and Himalayan blackberry

Zoe: The most valuable thing I learned during this research project was simply the amount of effort that goes into even a simple research project. Even simply getting approval for obtaining the necessary supplies was a challenge, not to mention the hard work of trying to collect ticks. It really helped me to appreciate complicated research studies scientists have done to help us learn about the world.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?
Charidan: Classes such as Conservation Biology and Ecology emphasized the importance of detailed and specific data collection. We applied the quadrat method we learned from those classes to organize data collection before we started. PUC also offered a one-day seminar on Geographic Information Systems. GIS gave us the tools to map Angwin’s trails and plot our points along the trail. Flowering Plants opened my eyes to the different types of plants in on habitat. Without the expertise of that class, I doubt we would have noticed any correlation between invasive species and ticks.

Zoe: PUC prepared me for this experience by providing me with the basic knowledge necessary to understand the research process. Specifically, taking Intro to Research Methods provided me with a solid background to be able to read and comprehend scientific research articles in order to prepare a feasible plan for our study. I also was grateful for the knowledge I had from Genetics, as it allowed me to understand how sequencing the ticks’ DNA to detect Lyme disease would work.

Student Research Profile: Michelle Tang and Janet Tang

In this picture, Michelle (left) and Janet are running an experiment in which the rattlesnake strikes a solution-filled glove they will later analyze for venom content.

Meet Michelle Tang and Janet Tang, both biology majors at PUC who plan to continue on to medical school after college. Last summer, they conducted research in the college’s very own Clark Hall lab studying rattlesnakes and their venom.

Who are you?
I’m Michelle Tang and I’m a senior here at PUC. I’m also a biology major/pre-medicine student, planning on going to medical school to become a physician.

I’m Janet Tang, a junior biology major hoping to continue on to medical school.

What did you do?
Michelle: I worked with Dr. Herbert to study the habituating acts of rattlesnakes by calculating venom expenditure and observing measures of defensiveness. My partner and I were in charge of filling the rubber hand gloves with saline, warming it up to about 37 degrees C, and scenting it to match the effects of a real hand. I was also responsible for pouring the contents from the glove into a bucket, diluting it, and putting it into individual vials. My partner and I also used the vials of diluted venom to find the concentration of protein in the venom via protein assay.

Janet: I was responsible for recording the interaction between the snakes and the saline-filled rubber gloves. I followed each snake and made sure to film the potential bite at a specific angle that allowed us to determine the time of strike and more.

When and where did you do this work?
The research lasted 10 weeks during the summer of 2017 in Clark Hall.

What did you learn?
Michelle: I learned rattlesnakes are not vicious reptiles that are out there to get you. Each and every rattlesnake had a different character and temperament and reacted very differently to the actions imposed on them. Some rattlesnakes didn’t even strike at the glove when they were seriously provoked. I also learned the importance of teamwork and communication in terms of getting things done correctly and on time.

Janet: Contrary to popular belief, I learned rattlesnakes are kind and gentle creatures. Though they are though to be aggressive, rattlesnakes do not want to bite humans and only do so when they are harassed or scared.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?
Michelle: As a biology major student, classes such as Animal Behavior and Intro to Research really prepared for the knowledge that this research entailed. Having taken Animal Behavior, I learned about habituation and the various types of non-associative and associative learning. Taking Intro to Research allowed me to better understand the steps and processes of how researching works. Although I haven’t taken Immunology yet, I will definitely be prepared to do a protein assay when the time comes.

Janet: Because I’m a science major, the science classes I have taken helped prepare me by providing valuable lab experience and knowledge I have utilized during my research. In addition, I have enjoyed getting to learn about various science topics ranging from single-celled organisms to large multicellular creatures.

Student Research Profile: Mychal Hellie

Mychal spent hours in a canoe studying grebes during his internship with the Audubon Society.

Meet Mychal Hellie, a junior environmental studies major at PUC who plans to continue on after college to get a master’s in ecology. Last summer, Mychal helped Dr. Floyd Hayes study grebes on nearby Clear Lake as part of his internship with the Audubon Society.

Who are you?
I’m Mychal Hellie and I’m an environmental studies major in my junior year. I plan to get my master’s in ecology.

What did you do?
I helped Dr. Hayes study the grebes on Clear Lake. We studied the distribution of nest locations and the grebes behavior on the nests. My job was to help set up the cameras and survey the nesting locations. I also recorded data from the pictures about how much time each parent spends incubating the eggs.

When and where did you do this work?
My internship was with the Audubon Society, doing research on Clear Lake during the summer of 2017.

What did you learn?
There is a lot of work that goes into field research, especially when it involves canoeing at five in the morning, and if you want good data, you need dedication. Studying the grebes out in wild taught me how interesting the natural world around us can be. Going minute by minute through photos of their lives showed me the vast complexity of wildlife and why they are worth studying and preserving.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?
Classes at PUC like Pollution & Environmental Quality helped me understand conditions like eutrophication that affect the ecosystems on Clear Lake.  Ecology and Conservation Biology taught me many field techniques I used in to study and sample the grebe populations.

Student Research Profile: Sierra Trogdon and Antonio Robles

Sierra (2nd from left) and Antonio (2nd from right) and fellow classmates also spent time snorkeling in Honduras, when they weren’t conducting research.

Meet Sierra Trogdon and Antonio Robles. Sierra recently graduated from PUC with a degree in biology, while Antonio is still working towards completing his degree. They both conducted research with Dr. Floyd Hayes studying sea urchins in Roatán, Honduras, last summer.

Who are you?
I’m Sierra Trogdon and I graduated PUC with bachelor’s in biology. I plan to start veterinary school in the next few years.

I’m Antonio Robles and I’m a sophomore biology major. I plan to go on to medical school and specialize in family practice.

What did you do?
We participated in research with Dr. Hayes studying the symbiotic associations between rock-boring urchins and fish. Most of the work involved natural observations, counting holes with the urchins, and writing down every species seen in the hole. In intervals of 10 minutes, we spotted a fish and counted how many holes with rock-boring urchins they associated with. The study involved studying thousands of sea urchin burrows and tallying the different species seen hiding in their burrows.

When and where did you do this work?
The research took place over a period of eight days during the summer of 2017 in Roatán, Honduras.

What did you learn?
Sierra: During the research project I learned how to identify the various types of sea urchins, fish, and other species involved in the study. I also learned and realized just how tedious and time consuming it is to obtain accurate and reliable data. It was not as easy as simply counting and tallying the species. There were thousands of sea urchin burrows and each hole had to meet the right criteria in order to count. There were a couple times where I had to start over and redo counts to increase the accuracy and reliability.

Antonio: I hadn’t realized the fascinating opportunity research can give you to construct interpersonal skills by getting together with students and professors that are interested in finding one new aspect of the behavior of a certain species. Often we would get together to review our data and plan on how we will collect more as a group. I learned how working in groups is important in research as well and the importance of communication in the field. In addition, I learned how to record data in the coral reefs and new ways to observe nature with a curious mind.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?
Sierra: PUC helped prepare me by teaching me the general biology involving the marine life I encountered. The Intro to Research Methods class also played a major role in preparing me for the research I did. I planned and proposed a research paper that included background information and methods for counting the sea urchin burrows. This significantly increased my understanding of the research that was being done.

Antonio: Taking Biological Foundations helped me understand the phyla and characteristics of the species we were observing which led to my understanding of the project better. The Tropical Biology class also made me understand the diversity in the coral reefs, potential harms, taxonomy, and potential dangers. For instance, knowing fire coral could sting me while researching in the shallow rocky areas would definitely have made me uncomfortable; however, having known this before from class led me to become aware of my surroundings and feel comfortable during the research process.