Alexa Sterling ('15, Marine Biology)

Photo of Alexa Sterling What do you do for your undergraduate research?

I work in the laboratory of Dr. Alison Taylor, who studies the cell biology of marine protists. I am working towards developing an Honors Project examining the interactions between toxins from phytoplankton that produce harmful algal blooms and micro zooplankton. Micro zooplankton are important components of the marine food web so negative effects on them may have wide ranging ecological impacts. This is an especially important area of study because human activities are believed to be causing an increase in harmful algae blooms.

What made you want to pursue an undergraduate research project?

I have always been interested in the ocean, its systems, and creatures. Doing an undergraduate research project is a way for me to learn first-hand about marine biology research, participate by running experiments, and add to the scientific knowledge.

How did you start your research project?

During my first semester at UNCW, I expressed interest in getting involved with research to my Honors Cell Biology professor, Dr. Stapleton, and she recommended that I meet with Dr. Taylor. I was interested in the work Dr. Taylor did and I started in the lab by counting cells. Now I am performing my own experiments and developing my Honors Project. I'm very grateful for the help and support given by Dr. Taylor and Dr. Stapleton.

Was doing your own research fun? Be Honest.

Yes, it is! It can be challenging at times developing experimental protocols and running experiments, but it is rewarding to learn about the organism you're studying through analysis of your results. Also, sometimes there are donuts in the lab and that's always a fun surprise.

It isn't required to do research as an undergrad, so what advantages do you think this experience has provided you?

Many of my future career plans include research, so I see this as related work experience for future jobs and education. Most importantly, doing an undergraduate research project has given me practical experience with developing protocols, running experiments, and analyzing data.

What recognition and/or grants did you receive for your research?

I was awarded a George T. Undergraduate Research Grant for 2012 - 2013. Under this grant, I will present my work next fall at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium.

What are your plans after you receive your degree from UNCW?

After graduation, I plan to pursue a research oriented career by attending graduate school or a college of veterinary medicine.

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