Senior Nathan Crane shared some thoughts on his McNair research project under the supervision of mentor Dr. Jill Leonard, his plans for the future, and his experience in the McNair Scholars Program.
Welcome, Nathan! Could you please describe your McNair research project? What did you learn through this research process?
My McNair project was an experiment aiming to determine the effects of rearing habitat on fish, brook trout in this case. The goal of my study was to determine whether or not altering artificial habitats (in order to make them more similar to natural habitats) would have any effects on the growth and/or body morphology of the fish. Growth and morphology both have biological significance, potentially affecting the survival of the fish.
Through my research project, I found that a more “naturalized” habitat did not have significant effects on the growth rates of the fish, but it did affect the morphology. Fish in the naturalized habitat had longer, more pointed snouts than fish in habitats without enrichment. Fish raised in hatcheries often have short, blunt snouts as a results of constantly running into other fish and into the walls of their habitat. The results of my study indicate that general aquaculture environments could be designed to imitate natural systems, possibly improving some common morphological problems without seeing any cost to the growth or size of the fish. This may allow aquaculture and/or hatchery operations to improve the quality of their stock while maintaining the growth rates needed to raise and release their fish to full size in a timely manner.
I learned quite a bit during my summer work, especially about aquaculture systems, brook trout biology, and photography. Aquaculture can be a messy field of study/work, and I really learned how important plumbing skills are to designing a working system! Aquaculture is one of my many research interests, and after this summer, I feel I would like to continue aquaculture research, but not as my primary field of study. I also learned quite a bit about geometric morphology and using pictures to determine differences in shape between different individual organisms. After looking at and analyzing over 300 pictures, however, I learned that it’s not something I want to do for the rest of my life. One of the strongest points I took from conducting this experiment, however, is the importance of really digging into the literature, and having a good understanding of what you want to do BEFORE you do it. I would have had a much more difficult time with my project had I not done a lot of reading beforehand.
What has working in Dr. Leonard’s lab and being a McNair Scholar meant for you personally?
Working with Dr. Leonard was an excellent experience for me. She is a very busy person, even during the summer, but she still made time for me when I had questions, when I needed help collecting my data, and I would have had a very difficult time plumbing my system without her help. She also gave me plenty of space and time to get my project running, which prevented me from becoming too stressed, but also made me take charge and forced me to take responsibility for my work. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to work under.
As for the McNair program itself, I sometimes still have a hard time believing that I deserved to get in. The program provides an incredible amount of assistance in looking for and applying to grad schools, studying for the GRE, understanding what higher education can do for you, and what it’s like to make research your career. They have so many resources available to you, for FREE, and provide many opportunities to meet professional researchers, professors, and graduate students, learn about time and money management, and even allow you to visit schools if you wish. For free. Actually, that’s a lie; if you complete your research and go through the program, they PAY you. I just cannot emphasize enough that they are an incredibly valuable resource for students who meet the application requirements. I will never forget what I was given as a McNair scholar.
Tell us about your plans for the future.
After getting my BS, I plan on going into a Master’s program in aquatic biology or a related field, and hope to get a Ph.D. My end goal is really to become a professor, not only so that I can research fish for a living, but so I can teach. A good education is the most valuable asset a person can have, in my opinion, and I wish to teach people the value of science, education, creativity, and hard work.
When you are not busy with schoolwork, what do you enjoy doing?
When I’m not soaking wet and smelling like a fish or burying myself in schoolwork, I play guitar, play video games, read sci-fi novels and treat myself to a strong pint of ale. That’s something else I learned during my work as a McNair scholar: no matter how much work you have to do, it is necessary to rest, relax, and recharge by doing things you love.