As the date approached to move to Manteo for the fall semester, I was unsure about one thing: my internship placement. Like some of my classmates, I had no idea what I wanted for an internship. I knew that past students had been placed with environmental organizations, but that there was also a possibility I could complete a research project. My interests were broad: human ecology, management, and being outside a lot… so I was worried I might be placed in an internship I wasn’t interested in or be asked to develop my own research project from scratch because my interests weren’t specific enough.
Of course, I never should have worried. Thanks to our amazing internship coordinator, Corey Adams, we were all placed in great internships. Even though I probably made his job tough, he put in a lot of time to make sure that I had cool opportunities and options for my placement. I was able to score a research project with Dr. Lindsay Dubbs (the best; our assistant director for the OBXFS; coolest teacher at the field site) as my mentor and with the help of Dr. Reide Corbett, a geologist who teaches at ECU and is head of the Coastal Processes department at the Coastal Studies Institute.
My project is on ghost crabs- nocturnal creatures that live on the beach in burrows up to a meter deep. Ghost crabs are used as an indicator for the beach ecosystem because they are top predators and their populations fluctuate predictably with certain human influences. I really have enjoyed my project because it involves different types of research. I get to collect, decipher, and analyze historical data collected by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (over 20 years of data!), which involves making great connections with people who have been working in environmental monitoring and management since before I was born. I also get to sample ghost crab populations on the beach, which makes for some beautiful mornings. I spend most of my time at CSI, putting together the different pieces of my project and figuring out my next steps.
For the most part, I was responsible for determining my research questions and doing the work on my own. However, the basic concept for the project was developed by my mentors and they constantly provide me with feedback and advice. So, for anyone who is thinking about diving into a research experience, whether here at the field site or elsewhere, focus on finding great mentors who will help you develop a project and advise you along the way. The research community and process were daunting to me because I didn’t understand how projects and partnerships were created, but once you start gaining experience and getting ideas for what you want to do and like to do, it isn’t as scary.
A lot of work here at the field site is self-motivated- you get out what you put in. It’s working well for me because even though I’ve taken on a lot with my project, I’ve already gained so much experience and developed a project that I will continue after I leave the field site. I can’t thank my mentors and the staff here at the field site enough. They are invested in making our time here valuable and meaningful. Because of their work, I get to carry what I’ve started here with me to whatever I decide to do next.
-Caitlin Seyfried, Junior Environmental Science major from Greenville, NC