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Weekly Reflections on the JEDI Biocollections Scholars Program by Gilma De Leon

Posted by kmyule on August 4, 2022 - 10:44am in Undergraduate Students

This is a guest post by 2022 JEDI Biocollections Summer Scholars Program alum, Gilma De Leon.

 The scholars learn about paleobotany

Week 1 – First Week


            As the first week of the program got closer, I felt relaxed and excited for the start of the internship. During the first day, as we were very busy with introductions and overviews of the schedule, it felt like the day flew by. The next day, as everyone was presenting during the welcome mixer, my eyes started to open. I’d been around the collections previously; I took two classes in the Alameda building in the past year and had volunteered in the lichen collection. However, getting to know more people that worked at the collections through their previous and current experiences in science was fascinating. The presentations at the mixer gave me more perspective into how one could develop a career in science.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with the different labs when we took our campus tour later in the week. The passion behind those working in the locust lab was inspiring, and I was impressed with the impact that their research has on a global scale. The tour with the CAP-LTER members also gave me some more perspective into the type of work people were involved in. I thought the scope of the research in taking soil and water samples was super interesting, as I never thought about the specific sites that were being studied.

After our lunch, Liz’s plant demo gave us some insight into how passionate she was about plants, and gave us a sneak peek into how plant week would go.


Week 2 – Insects


            I was most apprehensive about the insect week, due to my discomfort at handling insects. To be fair, I’d never willingly handled insects so it was definitely a new experience for me. The initial presentation about insects that Evan and Andrew gave was really helpful in giving me the basics of entomology. Once Andrew passed out the sample Tenebrionidae beetle that we would pin as practice, I felt so nervous. It was really hard to insert the pin all the way through the exoskeleton and I realized that the exoskeleton was much more durable that I had believed. Once I got through the initial hurdle of pinning my first insect, the rest of the process was better. I still felt slightly nervous about handling more delicate specimens such as the Lepidopterans, but I thought it was nice to see the process of pinning, setting, and identifying each insect. The most satisfying part was seeing the completed collection after everything was done.


Week 3 – Vertebrates


            For this week, we focused on mammals for the most part. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire week, from the presentation in the beginning, to the two methods of specimen preparation. I found an interest in mammal prep that I don’t think I would have discovered without this program. Seeing the long process of preparing animal skins is fascinating and I felt very productive during the preparation.


Week 4 – Plants


            Plants week was very eye-opening as well. I didn’t know anything about vascular plants or the collection at ASU, even though I’d been working next to them for a while. My favorite part was trying to identify the different flowering plants that Liz brought out from the patio. I liked looking at the different structures of the flower and learning about the huge diversity present in plants. It made me excited to learn more about plants in the future, and I can say that I’ve started to deliberately pay more attention to plants wherever I go.

            For the lichen day, it felt super familiar to work with Frank and Gary. I liked seeing other people explore lichenology and develop their own interests in it as well.

            For paleobotany day, I was awestruck by how much detail in plant matter can be found in fossils. I always get a feeling of disbelief when seeing fossils that reflect the slow process from an ancestral species and comparing it to its modern-day descendants. Seeing the scans of the ancient walnut fossil was amazing, and I thought sorting the various fossils was fun; sorting is one of my favorite things to do. Also, working together to put the various stone fragments together was really nice, as we got to work more collaboratively together in a way that was low-stress.


Week 5 – Bioinformatics


            Honestly, bioinformatics are not for me. At least not right now. Maybe in the future I’ll spontaneously develop a liking for it. I definitely see the value in it, though. While Laura explained the problems of syncing information or even making our knowledge available, I thought about how much data is just floating around somewhere with no one to use it. How do you utilize something you cannot find? It’s simple: you don’t. I see that it’s essential to put gathered information out there in a way that is much easier to find and access, and I’ll go forward with that in mind when I work with anything in the future.


Week 6 – Last Week


            The two presentations from the last week were very inspiring. I think I speak for everyone when I say that all of Chris Alice’s achievements and progress were extraordinary. From the bits of the field guide that we got to see, I noticed the care and passion behind the book. Mary’s presentation on her project also seemed to give everyone additional perspective on outreach. The candid takes Mary had on biology outreach as a recent graduate was especially helpful; we really needed the perspective from someone closer to our experience as students and JEDI scholars. As always, special shoutout to Mary for sharing the JEDI opportunity with me.

            The most amazing thing that happened the last week was during the final presentation that we all prepared. Everyone got the chance to express their feelings on how the program went and what they liked the most; we all had our fun moments during the mixer. However, the presentation wasn’t the magic part of that moment, it was the vulnerability of everyone in that room. I saw first-hand the impact of community in academia, and the value of personal connections in the sciences. We all seem to have walked away with more than just practical career experience, knowledge of biocollections, or even just a stipend. As cringey as it is, we came out of that internship with friendship and connections.

The scholars share their first impressions of BioKIC

The BioKIC blog will be featuring posts by our program alumni. These posts will be outlining some of the highlights of the ASU Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Biocollections Summer Scholars Program. Stay tuned, and check out the website created by the scholars to showcase their work: