Learning to step out of my comfort zone at KBS

Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) 2018 undergraduate summer researcher, Selassie Lijelu, is a Forensic Chemistry major at the University of Saint Francis-Fort Wayne. She wrote about herKBS Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) project working with the Haddad Lab.

Exploring the KBS campus

The summer of 2018, I was selected to participate in the Michigan State University Kellogg Biological Station (KBS)Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. When I accepted the offer, I was extremely nervous and had no idea what the next eleven weeks in Hickory Corners, Michigan would consist of. I was under the assumption I would spend every day in the field working. I thought my summer would not be typical and my days would be spent doing field work to collect data for my independent research project.

When I arrived at KBS I kept to myself, I had one goal to create a solid research project that I would present at the end of the eleven weeks. My assumption of how I was going to spend my KBS experience lead me to spending my first week doing my research alone, focusing on perfecting my research methods and thinking about my proposal. The second week of being at KBS, I sat and had lunch with a group of the most amazing people I have ever had the chance of meeting. I was unaware that one lunch would drastically change my experience for the summer. I spent my days working hard on my project, however, my evenings were my own. Over the course of the next few weeks, I had made some amazing friends. We spent most of our evening’s laughing, exploring the area and learning about each other.

Assisting in data collection with my REU mentor, Dr. Jackson Helms

Over the course of the summer we learned an immense amount about each other and ourselves. During our time at KBS we went on multiple excursions together, such as a weekend trip to Chicago and a day trip to Warren Dunes. We spent our weekend evenings playing board games or having a movie night. This summer would have been completely different if I had chosen to isolate myself. KBS allowed me the opportunity to make lifelong friends and in the process, learn more about myself.

Outside of my core friend group, our KBS resident mentors made sure we had an unforgettable summer; they hosted multiple bonfires, day trips, crafts and movie nights. KBS offered a unique experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Outside of providing the best research experience for my professional life that I could have ever dreamed of, I made some of the best personal friends that I will have for years to come.               

Making new friends at an REU bonfire   

Finally, under the guidance of my mentor Dr. Jackson Helms I am closer to my journey of becoming a forensic chemist with a specialization in entomology. Our research project consisted of studying whether native perennial biofuel crops such as switchgrass and prairie provide higher levels of natural pest control than annual biofuel crops. To test this pest control hypothesis, we used sentinel prey to compare rates of pest consumption in switchgrass, prairie and annual corn biofuel crops. Dr. Helms exceeded every expectation I could have asked for in a mentor. He was always available to listen, provide advice and support. He was extremely hands-on and provided me with multiple learning opportunities, however he allowed me the freedom and space to make my own decisions. Over the course of the summer we developed a  great relationship, one that I hope to continue after I leave KBS.

This summer I learned an immense amount about myself personally and professionally. KBS allowed me to grow as a scientist and a person. I am extremely grateful for my summer REU experience, it is one that would not have been possible without the amazing people here at the Michigan State University Kellogg Biological Station.