Research Experience

During my undergraduate studies, I gained field experience surveying wildflowers. Post-undergraduate, I worked in a genetics/molecular biology lab. 

Undergraduate Project:

 Wildflower Census of Schmeeckle Reserve

Project Description

Advisor: Dr. Brian Barringer

Purpose: To catalog wildflower species in Schmeeckle Reserve to provide researchers and the public with a list of species they could observe.

Schmeeckle Reserve is a 280-acre reserve on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP). During the summer of 2015, we conducted surveys of 126 circular plots, each 10 meters in diameter.

Within the plots, all wildflowers were cataloged along with population estimates and phenology data. 

Phenology recorded: not flowered yet, flowering, fruiting, senescing.

Specimens were collected for deposition into the Freckmann Herbarium at UWSP.

Project Outcomes

At the end of the summer, we had recorded 242 species of wildflowers from 163 genera. One particularly interesting species noted was the round-leaved sundew, an insectivorous plant (Drosera rotundifolia; picture at right).

In 2019, Schmeeckle Reserve published a list of known wildflowers, woody plants, ferns, and mosses in the reserve. This project was a four-year long collaboration lead by Dr. Brian Barringer to catalog the flora of Schmeeckle Reserve.

My Takeaways

The summer of 2015 was by far my favorite summer during my undergraduate career. Working on this project gave me excellent experience out in the field, managing data, and collecting specimens. We worked in a variety of habitats (swamp, oak savannah, pine forest, wetland, etc.), saw all kinds of wildlife (deer, turkeys, birds of all shapes and sizes, snakes, frogs), and had our fair share of trips and stumbles, but that's all a part of science!

I was skeptical about working on this project. I consider myself to be an animal person, not a plant person, so I didn't think I would have fun cataloging plants all summer. This experience taught me that plants are actually quite interesting and beautiful. Now I can't help myself but to stop and identify wildflowers as they begin to crop up in the spring and throughout the summer.

Surveying a plot in Schmeeckle Reserve with Mike Copas (middle) and

Dr. Emmet Judziewicz (right).

Left: Round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)

Right: Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

Lessons Learned

Spending the summer in Schmeeckle Reserve taught me many things, including:

  • Don't leave your swamp-soaked boots in the trunk of your car during hot July weather. They will bake, making your entire car smell like swamp.

  • If a goose is hissing at you, it's just bluffing. Show no fear and keep walking.

  • Frogs may jump on you and your clipboard. They just want to say hi.

  • Try to carry extra shoes and socks when working in the field. Wet feet are no fun.

  • Be careful of downed trees. You may slide across one and tear a hole in your pants.

  • Plants are neat. Spend time looking down as well as up and appreciate the world around you.

Post-Undergraduate Research:

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Description

In November 2016, I began my job as an Associate Research Specialist in the Dermatology Department at UW-Madison. I worked under the supervision of Dr. Hao Chang, who at the time was a new principal investigator (PI). 

Initially, my primary job was to help get the lab set up. As a new lab, we received daily packages of various lab equipment for a while. Projects were slow going as we cleaned and set up the lab. Once we were up and running, my primary duties consisted of conducting experiments and every day lab management. 

Examining results of a western blot with Dr. Hao Chang (left) and Bo Dong (right).

Chang Lab Research Summary

Our research focused primarily on the developmental genetics of planar cell polarity (PCP) within mammalian skin. Planar cell polarity is responsible for telling the cells of the body how to align along tissue planes and body axes. In humans and mice, PCP mutations can result in diseases such as neural tube closure defects, polycystic kidney disease, and cleft palate.

Projects I was involved in:

  • Investigating the role of Frizzled 6 and Frizzled 3 in hair follicle orientation in mice.

  • Generation of a Keratin 13 knock-out mouse. These mice did not create the keratin 13 protein, a structural protein found in the tongue and esophagus. 

  • Investigation of the role of Frizzled 6 in the metastasis of melanoma.

My Contribution to Research

While in the Chang lab, I wore many hats. I acted as lab manager, undergraduate mentor, and research assistant. When I began, I had minimal experience in lab management, let alone genetics/molecular biology research. I am grateful to have received excellent training and confidently say I can conduct a variety of experiments as well as keep a lab running.

Research duties:

  • Genotype mice

  • Run qPCR

  • Cell culture

  • Prepare histological specimens

  • Molecular cloning

  • DNA and RNA purification

  • Western blotting

In wild type ("normal") mice, the hair follicles point anterior (head) to posterior (tail). If a mouse has Frizzled 6 knocked out (don't express it), the hair follicles begin pointing in random directions, but  realign themselves a few days after birth. In mice that have both Frizzled 6 and Frizzled 3 knocked out, not all of the hair follicles realign themselves, as indicated by the red arrows. This suggests in the Frizzled 6 knockout mice, Frizzled 3 is helping reorient the hair follicles.

Publications

Simonson, L., Vold, S., Mowers, C., Massey, R., Ong, I.,
Longley, B., Chang, H. (July 2020) “Keratin 13 deficiency
causes white sponge nevus in mice.” Developmental
Biology
(doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2020.07.016).

Dong, B., Vold, S., Olvera-Jaramillo, C., Chang, H. (October 2018) “Functional redundancy of Frizzled 3 and Frizzled 6 in planar cell polarity control of mouse hair follicles.” Development (doi: 10.1242/dev.168468).