KBS summer undergraduate researcher Carlneshia Johnson is majoring in Biology at Alcorn State University. She wrote about her Research Experience for Undergraduates project working with KBS LTER PhD student Bonnie McGill in Steve Hamilton’s lab. Carlneshia was funded by an NSF REU site award to the Kellogg Biological Station.
My experience at the Kellogg Biological Station in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program was one that is almost indescribable, but I will try my best to describe the wonderful experience I had at such an amazing place. How about you take away all distractions and follow me on my crazy journey?
It all started the day I received an email wanting to know if I was interested in an interview for, what was to me, just another internship. How naïve was I? I killed my interview, at least that’s what I thought, so then it was the waiting game. Once more my stomach became filled with butterflies because I was accepted to this internship.
As the days went by and I got closer and closer to the point of departure, my nerves became extremely bad, to the point of hair pulling bad. I had little confidence in the thought that I could go to KBS and be great. What was I doing? I no longer wanted to go because I thought, “I am just going to fail.”
The day came and I arrived at the Jackson, MS airport with tears in my eyes and no confidence in myself what so ever. As I boarded my final plane to Detroit and flew across the beautiful skies, I realized there was no turning back, that this upcoming experience had the possibility of being as beautiful as the skies I was floating across.
Not only did I arrive in Detroit, I arrived to the beautiful smiling face of my mentor, PhD student Bonnie McGill who works in Dr. Steve Hamilton’s lab, welcoming me to my new home for the next few months. As we reached KBS, even though it’s a place surrounded by only the voice of nature and a beautiful lake, my fear of failure returned, my stomach began to sink, and I felt as if I was going to be sick. We ate dinner and I socialized with some really intelligent fellow undergrads, boy did that help my confidence, not. At that point I was ready to just turn around and go home.
I started working and Bonnie explained her project to me, which felt like some of my longest days at KBS. I felt I would never understand the things she was teaching us. I was so good in chemistry at school, but I just couldn’t grasp the information. After we went over the concepts multiple times over several days, I finally began to grasp the information and was ready to start the experiment. I was gaining confidence because I had finally grasped the same information that even my graduate student mentor found complicated. Then I was excited to start my research on lime (calcium carbonate) carbon sequestration.
We ordered all of the supplies and after a few hiccups on the equipment design we were ready to begin. We started the experiment and guess what? IT COMPLETELY FAILED! The little confidence I had just gained was now GONE. The only thing going through my mind was I knew I would fail. Eventually we found a working way to conduct our experiment.
My mentor, Bonnie, conducts her graduate research on agriculture plots, a part of the KBS Long-term Ecological Research experiment, to determine the sequestration of lime carbon. My research was a continuation of her ongoing research trying to determine if lime carbon is a carbon source (CO2 emission into the atmosphere) or is it staying in the soils and becoming a CO2 sink. In order to test the many hypotheses we formed, I had to do a soil incubation testing different treatments; with and without lime, nitric acid, and irrigation (groundwater).
Fast forward to the end of the summer after receiving help from amazing people, my research was coming to an end. Each week as I completed another trial of my experiment my confidence levels rose and I was halfway confident in myself, but then my data was looking really off. All I could wonder was if I had been doing my experiment wrong the entire time. At that point, I was not going to let that one hiccup take everything I worked hard for that summer. I was frustrated, but I worked hard with Bonnie until we figured out what was going on. The only reason I was able to work through that frustration was because I had gained the confidence in myself to know that I would figure it out.
The last experience that had a huge impact on my confidence was the research symposium. I was super nervous to give my one-minute elevator speech in front of the whole auditorium and present my poster to the crowd. I begin to panic, but quickly realized that I wasn’t the same person I had come here as! I had gained so much confidence in myself it was now time for me to use it. Guess what? I used it and, from other people’s responses, I did an amazing job.
I have never worked so hard for anything in my life until I came to KBS. I was forced to gain confidence because it would’ve been a hard summer without it. I didn’t come into my newly found confidence alone though; it was because of my mentor, my lab family, peers, and other people at KBS. I would say to everyone reading, confidence is definitely the key to success. If you are struggling with it try on a new experience at a place like KBS and find your confidence. If you are an undergraduate looking for research experience, regardless of what you want to be in life, come to KBS; it will be a life changing experience.