Lauren Cromie ('17, Marine Biology)

 Lauren CromieWhat do you do for your undergraduate research?

I study the ear bones, or otoliths, of red drum fish. Each otolith has rings on it, and by counting the banding, I can figure out how old the fish is. This process is similar to counting tree rings, and each band represents one daily cycle. I observe the rings under a scanning electron microscope and measure the width of each band. In addition to its date of birth, I am also trying to find out the fish’s relative growth rate. If a ring on the otolith is larger than the others, then the fish grew at a faster rate on that day. Ultimately, my research seeks to find patterns in red drum growth rate during early life development

What made you want to pursue an undergraduate research project?

When I came to UNCW, I wanted to get more out of my academic career than just sit in classrooms and hear about marine life. By getting involved in undergraduate research, I’m able to become hands-on, and I combine the classroom learning with a real-world setting.

How did you start your research project?

I first began my undergraduate research in Dr. Kamel’s lab and conducted DNA analysis of barnacles. I learned a variety of research techniques and obtained a better understanding of molecular biology. But through that experience, I discovered that genetics is not a topic I’m passionate about. Because I enjoy learning about macro-organisms, I pursued a Directed Individual Study (DIS) with a fisheries professor. I currently work with Dr. Scharf, and during my first semester in his lab, I helped his graduate students with their research by collecting data and prepping samples. Now, I have my own project that will culminate into my Honors Thesis.

Was doing your own research fun? Be Honest.

I absolutely love it. I’m always learning how to approach problems in different ways. I’ll admit that working with otoliths is sometimes tiresome because I need to repeat the same methods for each and every single one. But ultimately, this experience is allowing me to finally contribute to scientific research in a real, meaningful way.

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

Research opportunities provide me with new experiences and build my expertise in the marine sciences. They also connect me to professors and graduate students that are researching the same topics that I want to pursue in my future studies. Not to mention, they’re a great résumé builder!

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

I have not received any formal recognition or grants for my project, but this experience proved invaluable when applying for the Hollings Scholarship.

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

I plan to either directly pursue graduate school or enter the work force with the intention of obtaining a doctorate degree later in life. I haven’t yet decided which route I will take.

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