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{Week One} The Rhythm of Research Ain't Nine to Five

The first day at OHSU was a whirlwind. We moved into our desks, toured the beautifully confusing campus, bought our TriMet passes and received our OHSU Intern badges. In the afternoon, we met with my mentor, Dr. Tawnya Peterson, as she was running samples to discuss ideas for our summer project. For the past three weeks Abigail and I have been participating in a BioMathematics workshop in Forest Grove at Pacific University. We had worked mainly in MATLAB, but now for this summer we will be doing most of our work in R, a statistical computing software. We exchanged ideas about what we had accomplished in the past three weeks and what Dr. Peterson saw as potential projects for us. The overarching goal of the summer is to have a paper that we can publish in a journal. One promising project that Dr. Peterson described involves investigating the river flow level as an indicator of red water (Mesodinium) blooms within the Columbia River estuary. As she explained, the Columbia River estuary is a special estuary because it rotates between two different “regimes” or “classifications” depending on the time of year. Dr. Peterson’s theory is that when a certain “threshold” for river flow level is reached, the estuary switches into a certain “regimes” of estuary which creates the perfect conditions for Mesodinium blooms. She provided a paper written by Geyer and MacCready describing their estuary classification scheme that we will be using throughout the summer. She also provided additional data sources from the CMOP website that we can access and pull into R to work with. Ultimately, my role will be to provide statistical analysis and visual representations to support her theory for publication.


Both Tuesday and Wednesday of this week were not typical “research-at-your-computer” sort of days. First, Wendy Smythe defended her dissertation in the morning which was followed by a party for her into the afternoon. It was eye opening to hear about the work she has devoted the past six years to. While some of her dissertation, titled “Biogeochemical Cycling of Metals in Extreme Iron and Manganese Depositing Environments, was a bit out of grasp for me, Dr. Smythe kept the presentation light and engaging with humor throughout. One interesting aspect of her dissertation was her extensive outreach work. She is Native American, so she put a lot of effort into connecting the science of her tribe in Alaska with the modern science of CMOP. She held science fairs and sampling days for the youth of her tribe to interest them in environmental health. I was impressed with her strength and dedication. I’ve always been aware of the rigor of a Ph.D., and observing Dr. Smythe’s dissertation was an opportunity that I was thankful to have during my internship. Secondly, Abigail and I were able to take part in a maintenance cruise along with our friends from Pacific University. Michael Wilkin, a member of CMOP staff, took us aboard Forerunner, a small research vessel, in Ilwaco Harbor. We sailed for nearly three hours to Astoria periodically stopping at Saturn stations so that Michael and his team could calibrate the machines. As they were doing so, Michael explained what data the machines were collecting and how they worked. This summer I will mainly be working with data collected by these machines, so it was beneficial to see the data was diligently taken care of to ensure its validity. Brief side note, it was a rather cloudy day, and I learned that clouds are not equivalent to SPF. I looked like a red angry bird when I stepped off the boat! I now know to always wear sunscreen when on the water regardless of clouds. After the cruise, we were able to tour the Maritime Museum and learn about the history of the Columbia River estuary as a strong, but extremely dangerous trade avenue. It was a long, fun, full day. A couple of pictures are attached below!


When I was at my desk doing research this week, I wrote code to pull the river flow data from the CMOP website into R, and I created time series graphs for each year. I also read the dense paper on estuarine classifications that Dr. Peterson provided and took notes on the content most relevant to me. I felt as though I was googling a new word in every other sentence, so my pace working my way through the paper was somewhat sluggish. I also attended the weekly lab meeting to hear the Master’s and Ph.D. students in our lab give their Three Minute Thesis presentations. Their projects span a wide variety of Columbia River science from the pH influx of the Pacific Ocean to juvenile salmon health. One thing I noticed from the dissertation on Tuesday and the Three Minute Thesis presentations was how obnoxiously, hilariously, scientifically verbose the titles are. Creating these titles is an art! My three minute thesis will be later in the summer once I have more research to present. Perhaps it will be titled, “Using River Discharge Levels and Phycoerythrin Time Series along with Estuarine Classification plots to predict the ideal environment for Mesodinium Red Water Blooms in the Columbia River Estuary”. Or something along those lines. One last observation I have from this first week, is that I do not have to worry about the stereotypical nine to five work week where I am chained to my desk! It’s incredible how much flexibility there is in an academic 40 hour work week. This first week of my internship has shown me that completing research is truly my responsibility because there is no set schedule or set of checks to ensure I’m on task. However, I am thankful that the time at my desk is broken up by various events because there is always a learning moment here at CMOP! To quote my Purdue professor, Dr. Mark Ward, “The Learning is Happening!”


  To end this first journal entry, I’ll provide a brief introduction of myself for those curious readers who have made it this far. I am a student at Purdue University in Indiana where I study Chemical Engineering and Statistics. At Purdue, I participated in a Big Data Analysis Learning Community under the incredible Dr. Mark Ward. Through his NSF grant, I have been able to work with Dr. Peterson this past school year and join the CMOP team as an intern. This summer internship is the culmination of my learning and research. On a personal note, I appreciate all things related to tea, dark chocolate, soccer, the beautiful outdoors, and spending time with good company. {Thanks for reading!}