Friday, August 29, 2014

Intern Blog. Glen Morrison from Citrus College.

At Citrus Community College this past spring, I had learned very last minute that I was eligible to apply for a summer research internship. Hastily, I filled out the application and wrote my personal statement. I turned it in all of ten minutes before the deadline. To my surprise I was soon called for an on-campus interview, which gave way to another interview at RSABG. I was overjoyed when I learned that I was selected for a Summer Research internship at RSABG. I had previously visited the garden, and had long thought, very specifically, that it would be an awesome place to work. All I knew for sure was that I would be working on a research project. I also hoped that I would have some opportunity to get into the field, as it is my goal to become a field biologist. The internship, in all ways, exceeded my expectations.

More days than not we were working in the field. I was immediately introduced to cross-country hiking. Translating my years of trail-hiking experience to the scrubby, rocky, crumbly, pokey, spiny Pinyon-juniper Woodland of Bighorn Mountain Wilderness was a challenging and fun experience. I found that soon the boundaries between passable and impassable terrain soon faded in my mind. Never in these wilderness areas did we ever see another person hiking. One memorable event was discovering, by reading a log book, that we had been the first people to summit one of the Granite peaks since 2009. Seeing just how under-explored much of California is, inspires me to contribute to the biological understanding of this state. Every day in the field was another reminder that I made the right decision in pursuing a career in field biology.

Duncan Bell and Glen Morrison in the Monarch Wilderness
This field work was my first true trespass into the discipline of field botany. I discovered how much I like this discipline of biology. There is such great botanical diversity and so much room for study. Great gaps exist in our botanical understanding and this intrigues me. It is an added bonus that plants stay put. There is no need to trap, or track plants. The botanist needs not wake at strange hours to catch the plants in the open. Plants can be collected, usually, with general ease and stored as a record of specific research and tool for future research. I really came to appreciate the details and process of field botany.

Many days spent on the garden were spent in horticulture. This was the field about which I knew the least. I soon became aware of relationship between horticulture and conservation. Horticulture makes places like RSABG possible, places like RSABG generate interest in native plants, interest propels protection. RSABG horticulturists also play a direct role in growing plants for conservation projects. Discovering the work that is done with cultivars (cultivated varieties) of native plants was fascinating to me, as well. It is a win-win situation when people plant these attractive native plants that please the home gardener and function within the flora. My experiences in horticulture were hugely enlightening.

Above all else my research project had to have been the most educational part of this internship. The RACE-to-STEM internship grant that had made my internship possible required a student research project. The researchers at the garden had put aside for me an AWESOME project. I was assigned to research Allium marvinii, an onion that has generated some taxonomic and conservation concern. Over the course of the eight week internship I had to understand the question in need of address, figure out how to investigate that question, and interpret the results of that investigation. Working with seasoned researchers was exciting and invaluable. Having to communicate and defend my work showed me the rigor involved in making a claim from research. This was an incredibly educational experience. In those eight weeks I learned a lot about how research plays out and how to better conduct research going forward. For more background information on this onion, botanist Fred Roberts wrote a very informative piece in the San Diego CNPS March 2014 newsletter. My research poster is available here.

I have never learned so much in two months as I did this summer. My experiences at the garden have affected my academic and career goals. Every person I worked with at RSABG taught me something that changed my perspective. To see the kind of community that exists at RSABG is very encouraging and makes me feel very optimistic about my future career. I made friends, found resources, and gained so much. In my experiences so far at Cal Poly Pomona, where I start this fall, I can already see how this experience affects how I am perceived. The importance of a quality internship, like the one I had at RSABG, cannot be overstated.

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