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Eliana Montgomery

I can’t help but start this post with commenting on how incredibly fast this summer went by!

 August 10, 2021

I can’t help but start this post with commenting on how incredibly fast this summer went by! And despite the challenge of being online, it’s been such an amazing one. From discussions on the influential role of body size in biodiversity, time spent working on an original research project and the wonderful people I was able to meet and work with, this internship has been full of memorable experiences.

For one, I learned so much about biodiversity this summer. As we read through the book Why Size Matters, we had weekly group discussions on each chapter. Before opening the book, I was somewhat apprehensive about reading scientific literature, and understanding enough to talk about it. But it was really interesting! Between the engaging way the book was written, the insightful comments and questions other people had, and Pedro’s kindness to discuss all our questions, I was able to think much deeper about body size’s importance.

I also really enjoyed hearing about such interesting topics by being able to attend Dr. Payne’s lab meetings. It was so generous of him to invite us to join. Listening to the current research his lab members were working on, and hearing a little about their journeys to get there has been really encouraging toward my own interest in research. Every week - with the book discussions, lab meetings, and our own project - I was getting more puzzle pieces to the picture of extinction, evolution and life.

With that said, a majority of this program has been time in breakout rooms, working on our research project. We decided to study the relationship between metabolic rate and extinction for certain phyla during the Cenozoic Era. This required a lot of data gathering and code. At first, it was pretty difficult to find any of the information we needed, and I was worried that we might have to scrap our idea. But Pedro and Dr. Payne were so supportive and helped us find the data we needed to move forward with out project! My groupmates, Kelly and Claire, have been so amazing, and I’m so grateful to have gotten to spend so much time and work with them. (They’re seriously so smart and kind!) I look forward to continuing working with them to prepare our presentation for AGU.

And no reflection on the summer would be complete without a great big thank you to all the people who made it possible: Dr. Saltzman, Dr. Payne, Michael, and Pedro. I’m so grateful for their time and unending willingness to help. I’d also like to thank all the other interns, who’s ideas often made me think differently. And once again, to Kelly and Claire for being amazing partners!

Within the first hour on the very first day, I was certain that this program was exactly where I wanted to be.

 July 7, 2021

Within the first hour on the very first day, I was certain that this program was exactly where I wanted to be. I still remember the feeling I got when we introduced ourselves for to the whole group, with name, grade, and interests or future aspirations. Hearing peers talk about interests very similar to my own - such as environmental research, justice, and policy - I was once again overcome with an excitement of getting to be part of this group.

But not too long afterwards, when we started to get into lectures about the spectacular history of life and importance of body size and diversity, I had moments where I questioned if I was really prepared for everything this program would entail. We learned the definition of paleobiology, and I was introduced to a new field that I hadn’t yet been able to explore and didn’t know much about. However everyone has been so welcoming and gracious, and I was able to overcome my own doubts. Pedro’s lectures, detailed and informative, always have room for us to ask questions, and I’ve learned so much about diversification and extinction throughout life’s history. In the second week, he, Michael, and all of my fellow interns were so helpful in this coding journey we had embarked on. I didn’t have very much experience with coding before, and it’s really encouraging to see how far I’ve already come. (Color coded graphs!)

This year is entirely virtual again, with meetings each day over Zoom. And while three hours over Zoom sometimes feels like a long time, activities and an amazing subject have made these first three weeks really fun. Although we aren’t able to be in person or go on field trips, I’ve enjoyed getting to meet everyone in breakout rooms and playing Among Us. :)

I’m so grateful for everything I’ve already learned these past few weeks. Now, as we’re beginning to work on our own projects in groups, I can’t wait to put some of what I’ve learned to the test, continue to work with amazing people, and learn more about the role of body size in evolution!