Students Reflect on Summer Internships


Bigelow Laboratory hosted 23 summer interns this year. Eric Walton, our communications intern and a 2017 graduate of Colby College, spoke with some of the students and wrote the following to share his reflections on the summer experience.

On May 29, a group of college students arrived in East Boothbay, Maine. We came from all over the country for the same reason: an internship at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. This was a big deal. We were about to be part of a marine science laboratory at the top of its field, expected to learn and do things that we would only be able to at a laboratory like Bigelow. What I did not realize then was how my time here would be more than anything I could have anticipated. Through my internship, I was given the chance to be part of an organization built upon a foundation of opportunity that I know I would be hard-pressed to find in many other places.

Bigelow Laboratory mixes two important things that can sometimes seem paradoxical: a familial work environment and world-class performance. Though I have taken classes with Bigelow scientists in the past, I did not know the extent of the friendliness, passion, and positive attitudes embodied by everyone I have met at this institution. They are all brilliant, but that does not stop them from enjoying the work they do, the people they work with, and the location they work in. This has somehow culminated in a laboratory at the forefront of its scientific fields of study, which I thought would have required a cutthroat environment. Yet, Bigelow Laboratory has both, and it provides interns with a unique opportunity to get to know the scientists as well as the science.

Matt Weiser, an REU intern from Occidental College, said he was given a high degree of independence and respect, which allowed him to build close relationships with the staff – something he had not really anticipated. Matt worked in the Deep Biosphere Laboratory run by Senior Research Scientist Beth Orcutt, where he studied the patterns in how microbes “eat” rocks. His main goal was to examine whether there are specific factors that determine which types of rocks or mineral substrates microbes prefer to colonize. Though Beth and her team were always available to help Matt, he was trusted to independently conduct his work and treated like a fellow researcher rather than an intern.

Annie Innes-Gold, an REU intern from Vassar College, worked with Senior Research Scientist Doug Rasher in the Costal Ecology and Biodiversity Lab. Annie’s research looked at whether the diversity of herbivorous reef fish species has an effect on the amount of algae consumed on reefs, which has important implications for the overall health of coral reefs. Annie also had the opportunity to engage in some local fieldwork to assist with a different research project. She went diving in the waters near the lab to collect seaweed and amphipods, small crustaceans found on seaweed. She said that the experience provided her with valuable exposure to fieldwork and to other lines of research.

Emily Geske, a Colby College student, worked as an REU intern this summer in the Benthic Marine Ecology Laboratory with Senior Research Scientist Nichole Price. Her research looked at the possibility of using crushed shells as way to remediate the effects of ocean acidification on aquaculture farms. She said she enjoyed being in a focused environment with other students who are passionate about what they are studying and excited to share what they are learning. One unique part of the interns’ experience this year was that we were the first cohort of REU students to live on campus in the new Graham Shimmield Residence Hall. Emily said her favorite thing about the dorm is how its design is inspired from the natural environment – especially the green roof, which was the first thing she saw each morning out her window.

My time as an intern has taught me the importance of two things: passion for your work and friendly people to share that passion with. Experiencing either in an internship helps to maximize your learning experience. This summer’s interns were all lucky to be part an organization that supports both.