Into the Woods for Undergraduate Research

October 20 2017
Category: Academics

This week’s #SoaringToSuccess feature story goes into the woods with biochemistry major, Emily Repas ’18. Emily spent her summer in the Oak Mountain State Park researching why a nonindigenous pine tree species was growing and thriving in the park.

Let’s grab our hiking boots and learn more from Emily…

Emily Repas'18

Being a student in the sciences, research experience is invaluable. It allows you to better understand the scientific process and become better prepared for career opportunities and graduate school. That is why I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to take part in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program funded by the National Science Foundation.

I was given the opportunity to travel to Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, to plan and perform research for nine weeks. Almost immediately after arrival, I fully constructed a research plan and began collecting data. My project was centered on remnant longleaf pine populations in Oak Mountain State Park. This species of pine requires a unique environment and forest fires to outcompete other species of trees. The state park did not support the correct type of environment, yet small populations of the longleaf pine still existed in the park.

Most of my time was spent in the woods collecting environmental data and surveying trees. Once I collected the data I needed, I performed rigorous statistical analysis to determine if there were environmental trends indicating why the longleaf pine could exist in an area that they theoretically should not. At the end of the program, I also created a scientific poster and presented my research in a formal presentation to my peers and mentors.

I am currently a biochemistry major, but I fell in love with botany in the middle of my educational career at Elmira. I was unsure of what I wanted to do with my degree and how I wanted to continue my education. Completing this program allowed me to realize that my true passion lies in ecology, especially in terms of restoration. This field allows me to enjoy the outdoors and the scientific process all at once.

I would highly recommend a REU program to any science student. It is one of the best ways to understand what “real world” science is like and to determine if you enjoy a particular field. It also allows you to interact with students interested in other fields and to help them with their work, even if it is not related to your own.