UD undergrads get hooked on fish research
Kevin Crum and Brittany Schieler said they would like their future careers to involve research. Photo by Elizabeth Boyle

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8:22 a.m., Dec. 7, 2009----University of Delaware juniors Brittany Schieler and Kevin Crum worked this summer as interns at the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment's (CEOE's) Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, where they immersed themselves in marine science and, you could say, caught the research bug.

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The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) interns took part in workshops, toured beach dunes, and went on a research cruise along with other undergraduates on campus. But their research on Delaware Bay fish under the direction of Timothy Targett, professor of marine biosciences, was the most eye-opening part of the experience.

“I'd never actually seen science as a career,” Schieler said. “I'd learned it in school but it's so different to see actual field work and everything that goes into research, like grants and proposals and the steps you take to get funding.”

Now the students, who are both in the University Honors Program, are preparing to spend the summer of 2010 continuing their work in Lewes. They are also planning to attend the fall 2010 Semester-in-Residence program, another CEOE opportunity for undergraduates. The Lewes-based program will let Schieler and Crum, both in the Honors Program studying biological sciences, work with Targett as well as take graduate-level courses.

Their research, which will culminate in senior theses, is in both cases based on a longtime interest in marine science. Schieler grew up in Queens, N.Y., pestering her parents to visit the aquarium. Flanders, N.J., native Crum said he has fond memories of snorkeling in Florida while visiting family there.

“I definitely wanted to study something macroscopic,” he said. “I was interested in studying a macroorganism, not so much in the chemistry or the microbiology.”

The key to bringing their aspirations to life, the students said, was teaming up with Targett. He makes it a priority to see that interns in his lab get valuable experiences that can give them an advantage when they apply for graduate school.

“I want them to discover if research is something they want to pursue in their future,” he said. “I also like for them to do something that has a beginning, middle, and end but is also a piece of a larger effort, so that when we publish this work, their portion of it is in the publication.”

To that end, Schieler is working on a project that looks at the entrance, or ingress, of fish larvae to the estuarine waters of Delaware Bay from the open ocean spawning areas. The project studies how changes in environmental conditions influence the strength and timing of larval ingress. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sea Grant-funded endeavor involves UD researchers as well as those at regional institutions. Crum's project, which is part of a broader NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research effort, looks at the effects of shoreline development such as bulkheads and riprap on nearshore fish populations.

Through these projects the students found out that science is a process of discovery -- that the research process doesn't always progress the way you anticipate. This is something else that Targett likes his interns to learn. For Crum, the lesson happened when the fish for his initial research project weren't plentiful enough to study and he had to redesign his approach.

“You have to be creative,” he said, “If you get a little snag, you have to come up with a way to get around it.”

Targett said both Crum and Schieler have the skills to deal with such obstacles -- he used the words “independent” and “persistent.” The students said the guidance they received from Targett and his graduate students helped them along too. They said assistance provided by marine biosciences graduate students Edward Hale, Richard Balouskus, and Margaret Miller exceeded any expectations they had.

“Anything I had a problem with, I could go to them, either the grad students or Dr. Targett, and they would help me,” Crum said. “I could run ideas by them and they would make suggestions.”

Another reason they liked the experience? While there can be a lot of tedious work, research can be really fun. Schieler got to take samples from the bay at all hours, and Crum spent time seining with a large net catching fish under the summer sun.

“I really enjoyed just being out and doing the research,” he said.

To learn more about Delaware Sea Grant or CEOE, visit the Web sites.

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