Summer on the Shore Means Research for this Student

August 19 2016
Category: Academics


This week's ‪#‎SoaringToSuccess features Rebecca Whitney ’18, who was a summer intern with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science REU Program. Each year, the Research Experience for Undergraduates places 12 to 15 undergraduates with faculty mentors for a summer research experience. Internships are available in many areas of marine science, including marine biology and ecology; biological, geological, chemical, and physical oceanography; environmental science; fisheries; and resource management.

Here’s what Rebecca has to say about her experience:

This summer I had the opportunity to participate in the Research Experience for Undergraduates internship program at VIMS, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. VIMS is a graduate school connected to the College of William & Mary. The REU program at VIMS was directed by Rochelle Seitz and coordinated by Jennifer Dreyer, while Bruce Pfirrmann served as our loyal Teaching Assistant. There were 12 students in the program from all over the country in all different majors. We lived on the William & Mary campus in Williamsburg, VA and commuted to Gloucester Point, VA, the home of VIMS, each day. Each student had individual mentors and projects for the summer.

My project was specific to Geochemistry and was part of a much bigger effort: the Plum Island Research Project. Plum Island is a barrier island on the coast of Massachusetts that has been undergoing severe erosion in recent years.

My mentors, Dr. Chris Hein and Dr. Elizabeth Canuel, wanted to determine the origin of the sediment on a historical timeline. They tasked me with prepping sediment samples for several different analyses, running total organic carbon and total nitrogen content analyses, and interpreting the results from all of the analyses. On top of the science itself, the REU program required me to write and present a prospectus (a proposal) at the beginning of the program, as well as write a final paper for publication and present my findings.

This internship was an eye-opener for me as a science major who had not yet participated in research and is not pre-Med. There are many disciplines available to Chemistry majors who do not wish to go into medicine or pharmacy. I did find out the hard way that research is not always as exciting as it sounds. It takes hard, tedious work to get results, and that makes the results all the more rewarding. I spent hours preparing and analyzing samples to discover distinct patterns in the sediment of Plum Island that led me to conclude that sea level rise dictates the source of sediment. This REU program was a valuable learning experience that gave me the tools I need to prepare for graduate school and a career in science!

If you are interested in highlighting your summer internship experience, please contact Julie Fielding at the Office of Career Services.