Been a while since my last post, and I suppose one could argue I have been extremely busy. I started on this road back in 2008 (arguably, 2006, but who’s counting?), and it was been a long and exciting ride. And stressful, but that comes with anything really; part of the job, one might say. From more-than-humble beginnings my research exploded into the broad campaign it is today. And I couldn’t be more proud of it.
My research has been integrative, novel, and interdisciplinary, and I hope to inspire others to adopt my design and outlook on field research in general. Perhaps one of the most successful components of any project is participation from field assistants, and my project is no exception. However, I have started a fire here at Ohio University, one that I hope spreads and grows throughout the entire research community. Namely, student mentorship.
My student mentorship program began in 2010 quite humbly when one of my field assistants became interested in male agonism in tarantulas during the breeding season. And although that particular project did not pan out (lots of great spider escape stories however!), since then my program has expanded and propagated to other labs. The idea is simple: research assistants (typically undergraduates or recent grads) apply for jobs because they are interested in gaining experience. Often their end-game is graduate school, for which experience would be GREATLY beneficial. While assistants can gain experience on the main project, it is never really “their” work. Every student has some potential, as well as their own interests. The mentorship program I developed caters to that potential and encourages those interests. Basically, students who assist (paid or volunteer) are offered the opportunity to develop their own independent projects under my supervision.
The limitation to extent of these projects is of course contingent on permits/IACUC/etc, but this has not proved an issue thus far. During the mentorship process, I basically use the scientific method to get students to develop research projects that relate to my research questions. Students conduct literature reviews, design projects, propose them to me, and then together we work out details and execution. After completion, we then work together to turn the project into a presentable and publishable unit. Thus students not only gain the research experience critical for their academic/career goals, they also have the opportunity to contribute to a published work!! This program contributes to my project as well by allowing me to explore ancillary or alternative hypotheses that I would not normally be able to on my own.
This program has been immensely successful thus far, with a total of 8 projects that will be presented at local and national conferences throughout the upcoming years. Some have been even presented at international (World Congress of Herpetology 2012) or state-wide (OU-JCU Symposium) meetings! Most (if not all!) of these studies will also be written up for publication as well. You can read brief summaries of some of these amazing projects on my research page of this site. More importantly, the program has spread to others both in my lab (Vincent Farallo) and in other labs (Chris Howey). I plan to continue this program wherever I end up job-wise, and hope to encourage other researchers to adopt it as well. The program is easy, fun, and above all builds stronger connections between researchers, their assistants, and the research they are conducting. Stronger connections are essential for fostering an interest in science and research in young minds.
My dissertation itself looks like it will be 4-5 chapters in total. Shouldn’t I know by now? Well, four are completed. The fifth is the wildcard… if I can, I’ll work it in. But there are at least 10-12 additional papers that will derive from my work, including those associated with undergraduate co-authors (mentorship students). This has been one hell of an adventure, and I am both sad to see it end but also glad to start a new adventure elsewhere.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, I’m going to keep monitoring my dissertation sites as side project(s). Who says new adventures mean giving up your old work?
More to come as the journey comes to a close.