UF/IFAS Office of the Dean for Research
UF/IFAS Office of the Dean for Research
Quotes from Intern Alumni Survey
“This was a fantastic hands-on experience. I learn best from doing and I have never forgotten my time working on this project.”
“Research helps students actively engage in learning. It helped me find what I want to do after graduation.”
“This program provides great work experience and builds important connections with faculty and researchers.”
“It gives you valuable experience to help you get a job...I think employers are looking for first-hand experience you can’t get in a classroom.”
Examples of Past Experiences
- Cover Crops
By assisting with experimental design, undergraduate research interns gain a better appreciation of the scientific method as they determine how to rigorously test a hypothesis without exceeding space, time and budget constraints. Carlene Chase, an associate professor with the UF/IFAS Horticultural Sciences Department, involved her intern in every step of a study aimed at developing improved cover-cropping techniques. The study is part of a large-scale project that Chase is leading on organic strawberry production, a sector that is experiencing rapid growth. After helping to plan the study, the intern followed through by planting seed, tracking cover crop growth, and assessing weed suppression provided by the cover crops. Through exposure to the realities of scientific research, interns supplement their classroom learning with valuable experience and practical skills, Chase said.
- Extreme Microbes
Microorganisms native to extreme habitats can be harnessed for industrial processes. The objective investigated by one undergraduate intern working with Julie Maupin-Furlow, a professor with the UF/IFAS Department of Microbiology and Cell Science, was to optimize salt-tolerant microbes, such as Haloferax volcanii, for use in biofuel production. The intern sought to isolate strains of these microbes that could thrive in high levels of protein-degrading chemicals typically used when producing biofuels. After tagging DNA sequences in selected H. volcanii strains, the intern exposed the microbes to sodium hypochlorite, a common bleaching agent, and discovered genetic alterations that enabled the microbes to thrive under severe oxidizing conditions. Besides learning to operate instruments that map DNA sequences, the student facilitated development of more efficient practices for producing biofuels, using microbes as biocatalysts.
- Improved Pest Control
Gel-based baits are widely used to control the German cockroach, Blatella germanica, but in recent years, isolated populations have developed aversions to popular baits, necessitating new formulations. One undergraduate researcher took part in a series of experiments to explore the insect’s feeding preferences with professor Philip Koehler of the UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department. The student documented the amount of time roaches spent consuming current and proposed baits. He collected specimens, videotaped the insects sampling multiple baits, and then cross-referenced feeding time with mortality to determine which products killed roaches fastest. The student learned to design experiments, write in academic style, and give presentations to manufacturers of pest-management products to inform their development of nextgeneration baits.
- Bovine Mastitis
Intellectually, perhaps the most exciting aspect of an undergraduate research internship is the chance to make discoveries relevant to important issues. One student working with microbiologist Kelly Rice found herself on the cutting edge of genetic investigation concerning the pathogenic bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, responsible for numerous diseases including mastitis in dairy cows. To confirm the role of genes that were thought to influence production of nitric oxide, a compound that protects the bacterium from host immune responses, the student cultured and monitored several S. aureus genetic mutants under various environmental conditions. Rice, an assistant professor with the UF/IFAS Department of Microbiology and Cell Science, explains that this research may eventually lead to new therapies that impair the pathogen’s ability to produce nitric oxide, rendering it more vulnerable to antibiotic treatments.
- Marine Habitat Stewardship
In Hillsborough County, a youth angling program relies on a 4-acre man-made, saltwater pond for its activities. Program managers need to know whether the pond is attracting game fish such as snook and red drum from nearby Tampa Bay, a question addressed by undergraduate interns supervised by Joshua Patterson, an assistant professor stationed at The Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation. The interns were responsible for assessing baitfish populations in the pond, data that Patterson needed to predict the presence of larger game fish and potential youth angling success. The interns pulled seines through the water twice weekly, cataloging the captured fish by species. The students became adept at fish identification and learned the fundamentals of wildlife population surveying, contributing to the development and justification of future pond management decisions.
- Horse Genomics
One advantage of an undergraduate internship is the opportunity to learn about the subject matter behind a study, and why the research is being conducted. Students working with equine geneticist Samantha Brooks acquire a range of experience as they help conduct research on genetic factors that may contribute to the development of equine laminitis, a serious orthopedic disorder. Brooks, an assistant professor with the UF/IFAS Department of Animal Sciences, said that her interns’ responsibilities include maintaining health records on study animals, processing materials for DNA samples, and conducting lab procedures to isolate and analyze specific genes. Undergraduate interns have helped Brooks pinpoint a mutation associated with a gene that controls skeletal growth and could provide additional insights about laminitis.