My summer at Kellogg Biological Station: Reflections from an undergraduate researcher

KBS undergraduate summer researcher Bibiana Rodriguez is a Biology major at California State Univ. – Sacramento. She wrote about her Research Experience for Undergraduates project working with Dr. Karen Stahlheber  in Dr. Katherine Gross’ lab. Bibi was funded by an NSF REU site award to the Kellogg Biological Station.

This summer, I spent 11 weeks at the Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) as part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Eleven weeks was all the time I had to:

  • Work on my summer research project.
  • Learn new techniques.
  • Collect and analyze all my data.
  • Create a research poster with my findings.

Although 11 weeks seems like a long time, time flies by quickly.



Bibi (right) and fellow undergraduate researchers, Matt and Peter, working on cutting weed barrier to plant switchgrass at the beginning of the summer.

At the very beginning of my REU journey, I had no scientific research experience and had no idea what to expect. All I knew is that I was in a small town in Michigan to do research to help me determine if I wanted to apply and attend graduate school.

The first couple of days of my REU were a bit overwhelming due to the new information I had to learn. I had to read numerous scientific papers, which helped me understand the area of research I would soon be working in. After a week or so, I started getting into the swing of things. I’d meet with my mentor to work on research projects the lab had and also work on my own project.

I spent my summer working with Dr. Karen Stahlheber in Dr. Katherine Gross’ lab. My project focused on discovering how mixtures and monocultures of different varieties of switchgrass respond to changes in soil texture. I planted multiple switchgrass varieties together in two soil conditions, standard potting soil and a 1:1 soil to sand mixture. After planting the switchgrass, I studied how total yield was affected, specifically biomass production. This was part of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center research program on the sustainability of biofuels.

Currently, the primary source of biofuels is ethanol made from corn grain; however, there is a growing interest in using switchgrass for liquid biofuel production instead of corn. Given its wide range across North America, switchgrass has extensive trait variation allowing it to adapt to many environments. Its resilient nature that allows it to grow well in marginal land makes them ideal candidates to replace corn use for biofuel production.

Overall, the results from my summer research suggest that growing switchgrass in mixtures could offer yield benefits, particularly in fertile, well-drained soils. In a world where we rely highly on fossil fuels, it is important to find new ways to increase yields of plants used for biofuel production, which help reduce society’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Social Life


Bibi and fellow KBS undergraduate researchers enjoying the outdoors during the group camping trip.

If you were to ask everyone here what they like most about KBS, their answer would probably be the tight-knit community feeling you get when you arrive. From day one, everyone was very welcoming and we all got along really well. I didn’t expect this, but I created a great group of friends here that I am sure I will keep in contact with for years to come. The best thing is that with new friends come great new memories!

Initially, one may think that coming to a small town would mean that there was nothing to do during your free time, but that was not the case. It’s very easy to keep busy at KBS. During the day we would swim in Gull Lake, because who wouldn’t want to swim on a warm summer day? There were also plenty of festivals or art shows happening in nearby towns that we would take trips to. We even went on a group camping trip for a weekend, which was such a memorable trip! And in the evening we would watch sunset from the dock that’s right by our apartments. KBS sunsets are the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced.



Sunset at the dock by the apartments.

From this whole experience, I learned that immersing yourself into science for a summer can definitely help you figure out what you like or do not like. I learned that research takes a lot of patience and hard work, but completing the summer strong and producing a great research poster was satisfying. Participating in this REU helped me realize that I like research and that the graduate school path is in my future. I wouldn’t have known this for sure if it weren’t for my experience here at KBS. I highly recommend finding a summer REU program to help guide your decision if you are in the same boat as me.

At the beginning of the summer Dr. Gross told us that this summer would change our lives. She was right. I am so glad that I came to KBS this summer because this experience was amazing. I leave KBS with numerous connections, more knowledge about research and graduate school, and a great group of friends.

KBS is a great place. I am so glad that I came here for a summer REU. It was summer I’ll never forget.