Amber Reid works on a bacterial analysis in the Microbial Ecology Laboratory at BIOS as part of her project for the 2017 Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.
The gender disparity within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degree programs and the college-educated workforce is an issue that has faced colleges, universities, funding agencies, and employers for decades.
For fields that rely heavily on collaboration and innovation—such as genetics, computer science, and even civil engineering, among others—encouraging female participation is an easy way to increase the knowledge, skills, and insights required for scientific breakthroughs and other successes. One way to achieve this is by providing women with opportunities beyond the classroom to gain hands-on experience in both laboratory and fieldwork, which can often translate into higher rates of employment within STEM fields.
For four decades, the Bermuda Program at BIOS has been addressing this issue, providing more than 150 young Bermudian students with the opportunity to work alongside BIOS scientists on independent research projects during one or two-month periods. The program recently received a boost via support from the Allan Gray Trust, providing funding for two students each year as “Bermuda Program Gray Interns.”
Recently, four women from this year’s class of ten Bermuda Program students shared details about their summer research projects, as well as their academic paths, future career goals, and motivations for participating in this internship experience.
Barboza, 19 and one of this year’s Bermuda Program Gray Interns, has been with BIOS since 2012 when she first enrolled in the Marine Science Internship (MSI) program. After returning to be an assistant MSI instructor, Barboza was accepted as a Bermuda Program intern for the summer of 2016. During this time, she worked with BIOS ecologist and marine biologist Samantha de Putron on implementing a long-term monitoring program for the Living Reefs Foundation coral restoration site in Castle Harbor.
This summer, as a rising fourth year student at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, Barboza returned as a Bermuda Program intern to complete research for her master’s dissertation in marine biology. The project, “Monitoring and Recovery of a Disturbed Coral Reef: Castle Harbor, Bermuda,” aims to provide a comprehensive assessment of reef condition and recovery 70 years after the construction of the airport, which was a major disturbance to the reef environment. The research will also update the most recent assessment, now a decade old.
“These findings should improve our ability to compare the health of local reefs, advise the Bermuda Government where the most vulnerable areas are, and monitor changes associated with further environmental changes and human impacts,” Barboza said.
Returning to the program not only gave Barboza the opportunity to test and refine her study methods, but also allowed her to mentor two summer interns working in the same lab and utilizing the same data sets. This mentoring experience was particularly important to Barboza, who values the importance of giving back to the local community through teaching.
After graduating, she plans to return to Bermuda for a position in coral reef ecology or conservation research. “The Bermuda Program played a crucial role in helping me work toward my goal of a career in marine conservation and planning consultancy by challenging me, teaching me new techniques, and giving me an opportunity to further my leadership skills,” Barboza said.
O’Donnell, 18, graduated last spring from Bermuda High School and will attend Princeton University in New Jersey this fall to begin her coursework in math and science. She is one of many Bermuda Program interns who rose through the ranks of BIOS’s Ocean Academy, having enrolled in Waterstart at age 13 and then participated in the Marine Science Internship (MSI) program.
After completing MSI, O’Donnell began looking for opportunities to engage with the marine science research community outside of the summer months. During the 2015-2016 school year she started volunteering with Tim Noyes in the Marine Environmental Program laboratory at BIOS. Noyes, a senior research technician, brought O’Donnell on as part of his ongoing project using underwater cameras that are baited to attract marine life, which helps researchers describe and quantify local reef fish populations. The following summer, O’Donnell returned to BIOS as a Bermuda Program intern, where she again worked with Noyes, this time updating a lionfish species distribution model for Bermuda.
“With both of these projects, the connection between the research and the local community allowed me to really become invested in the project,” O’Donnell said. “It was this connection that inspired me to apply for the Bermuda Program again this summer.”
Currently, she is working with Noyes on her original project identifying fish species and analyzing video files from underwater cameras. However, this summer she is taking the process one step further and using the data to investigate how fish communities differ at various depths within Bermuda’s mesophotic reefs, or deeper water reef ecosystems.
“The people at BIOS allow me to grow and I aspire to attain their level of commitment and understanding of their areas of interest,” said O’Donnell. “My work as a Bermuda Program intern opened my eyes to a new way of approaching marine science and inspired me to pursue science in university.”
Reid, 20, is a rising third year student at Northeastern University in Massachusetts—far from her Jamaican-Bermudian roots—where she is working toward an environmental science degree with a concentration in conservation science. Her first two years at university, which included a recent six-month cooperative education study with a green office program, piqued her interest in sustainable development and planning.
“As a first-generation university student, and a woman in STEM with Caribbean roots, I am passionate about the protection of island environments, as well as the people who live in environmentally vulnerable island nations,” said Reid. “But to be able to preach about planning you have to understand the science behind it.”
Coincidentally, Reid’s family in Bermuda lives next door to Rachel Parsons, manager of the Microbial Ecology Laboratory at BIOS. After discussing her academic interests with Parsons, Reid applied for the Bermuda Program to gain hands-on experience working in applied science.
She spent six weeks this summer working with Parsons on an investigation into the changes in seasonal abundance of two Archaea bacteria within Devil’s Hole, Bermuda. This unique location in Harrington Sound experiences marked seasonal changes in water chemistry, making it a natural laboratory for research into microbial communities, nutrient cycling, and marine biogeochemistry.
“I’ve enjoyed learning the molecular side of the equation, but I think my interests reside in the direction of sustainability,” said Reid.
Stovell is the second of this year’s Bermuda Program Gray Interns. At 28, Stovell is further along in her education than many Bermuda Program interns, and she came to BIOS with a rich academic transcript and a fierce desire to learn. She completed her undergraduate degree in biology and enrolled in George Washington University (Washington, D.C.) as a medical student. After completing her first two years of theory work, Stovell took a leave of absence to work on a Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in environmental and occupational health.
“I’ve always loved the environment, but I’ve also always wanted to be a doctor,” Stovell said. “After applying for medical school I saw my mentor had a degree in public health as well as a medical degree and I realized that was the perfect mix of my two passions.”
With this background, and an interest in studying the island’s air and water quality to understand “how the environment plays a role in the health outcomes of a country,” she was paired with BIOS faculty member Andrew Peters. Peters, an environmental chemist by training, runs the Bermuda Environmental Quality Program and Air Quality Program, as well as the Tudor Hill Marine Atmospheric Observatory. Stovell’s project this summer involved testing sediment levels in residential water tanks to determine if a correlation exists between sediment levels and weather conditions.
“I like being in lab environments because they are often very diverse, with people from different fields working together toward a common goal,” Stovell said. “And being in the field and physically collecting specimens or samples allows you to see and understand the full picture of the subject you are researching.”