Colby has great lab science programs. So what’s the big deal about going to the Bigelow Lab?
I think we offer solid experiences in our labs, but the full-time nature and immersion that students get at Bigelow—being able to work with so many different and talented scientists in such an immersive environment—that’s a great benefit. When students want to get research experience, I say, “Sure! You can work in my lab. But don’t limit yourself. I want you to go out and see what it’s like in a big lab.” We certainly do great research here at Colby, but it’s a whole different scale at Bigelow.
And what is it students get by going to the “big lab”?
Having that kind of immersion and different kinds of research helps them really get proficient in techniques. For them to be able to see how many different ways you can study the ocean and on so many different levels is fascinating. It might not be what they pursue for a lifetime, but they are learning techniques to apply in an ocean environment. Or there are certainly other ways to use those techniques to address other kinds of questions.
What do your biology students bring back after a term at Bigelow?
They’re very proficient, especially in the quantitative skills, the lab skills, and the confidence that we hope our students have when they get to higher-level course work and research. So they come back after a summer internship or after a January program, or especially after the semester-away program, and they jump right into even more ambitious projects with more confidence. … I’ve had a couple of research assistants who have worked at Bigelow, and they come back with very strong lab hands. I feel very confident in them being able to transfer what they’ve learned at Bigelow in terms of being meticulous and really taking responsibility for their work.
And the Changing Oceans semester program is only open to juniors, right?
No. I have a first-year advisee who’s from the Seattle area, Brian Kim ’18. He did remarkably high levels of research at University of Washington and took courses at a community college. He’s so excited to have this affiliation with Bigelow. … I’ve encouraged him to apply to the Bigelow fall-semester program as a sophomore, which is unusual. And then he can still do an international semester-abroad program.
Explain the relationship between Colby and Bigelow?
It’s been growing. The courses [taught on campus by Bigelow scientists] have become very popular and certainly fill out our curriculum. It’s a great relationship and wonderful to be able to rely on very talented scientists to also lead our students in capstone experiences like honors thesis projects. … We appreciate and depend on the participation of their faculty in the Jan Plan program. I also think the summer research experience is essential, and we appreciate the fact that they hold spots for Colby students. I got an e-mail from Bigelow saying we sent them a lot of talented students and asking me to encourage more students to apply.
As a biology professor—a herpetologist—what does the Bigelow relationship do for you?
My own research is on frogs and their immune defense against the pathogenic chytrid fungus. I’ve been very interested in the microbiome of frog skin—all the bacteria and any other fungi that might be beneficial to the frog in inhibiting growth of this pathogenic fungus. … There is potential for collaborating to investigate the whole microbiome of frog skin. Scientists are starting to get a feel for how complex it is, and any microbiome approach can use this next-gen sequencing. So being able to work with folks at Bigelow who know how to run the samples and especially to sort through all the data is valuable. It gives a broader approach. [It allows us] to identify the diversity through DNA rather than by morphology.