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Researcher of the Month
Biology major, Honors College, Class of 2014
Research Mentor: Dr. Sharon Pochron, Sustainability Studies
*Other team members on the project: Nawin Sahebzada (Biology major), Shamin Sahebzada (Biology major), & Amy Stofenberg (Sustainability Studies program, '13).
Joy Pawirosetiko, an Honors College senior majoring in Biology, is one of many SB studentsdoing research related to the environment, and will be presenting at both the Earthstockresearch showcase on April 25 and URECA’s upcoming undergraduate research symposium on April 30!
Since January 2013, Joy has been working with Dr. Sharon Pochron of Sustainability Studies, most recently on a project regarding "The Effects of Roundup & Fertilizer on Earthworms." The project involved setting up flats and counting worms, and was done with additional support from the Life Sciences Greenhouse facility. “There was a lot of labor involved – with sifting the soil, and counting the worms. That took hours upon hours!” Last year, Joy presented at poster at URECA on "The Effects of Simulated Acid Rain on Earthworms." Currently she is writing up the results for a paper, and will also be presenting a research talk at the Honors College senior symposium in May. As Joy will tell you, studying earthworms was not something she had anticipated doing as an undergraduate here at SB, but was an experience that proved to be worthwhile: “It seemed so daunting when I first started, but it’s definitely worth it! ... I’m glad I did it.”
Joy has been involved in numerous campus activities and organizations, notably with theCommuter Student Association (where she currently serves as President, and formerly served as Media Chair, and Vice President); Undergraduate Student Government (where she has served as Senator since May 2013; and is also currently appointed as President Pro Tempore); as a student representative for a Project 50 Forward committee on dining services; as a member of the Search Committees for the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and for the Administrative Director of the Undergraduate Student Government. Following graduation in May, Joy plans to stay at Stony Brook for another year to complete a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Healthcare Management. She is a first generation college student, who was born in Suriname, moved to the US in 2001 and graduated from Lindenhurst Senior HS. Joy's hobbies include photography and badminton. Below are excerpts of her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen: Tell me about your research project.
Joy: Essentially we’re trying to see the effects of RoundUp on the number of earthworms, individualearthworm weight, and earthworm biomass. We’re also trying to see if fertilizer interacts at all with RoundUp. For our experiment we had four different treatments: RoundUp and fertilizer, RoundUp and no fertilizer, hand weeding and fertilizer, and the last one, our control, hand weeding and no fertilizer. After letting the planted grass grow for a month, we sprayed and hand weeded the respective flats (48), each containing 30 worms, for the first time. After ten days we sprayed and hand weeded the flats a second time because some of the grass started to grow back. Eight days after treating the flats we counted and weighed all of the worms. We did this for the second and last time after 60 days. Counting and weighing the worms (over a thousand worms) took so much work. We were in the greenhouse for so many hours!... But even though it was so much work, and at times we felt like giving up, we got great results and found that RoundUp did have an effect in the short-term and that fertilizer had a pretty strong impact over the long-term.
How did you first find out about the opportunity to work with Dr. Pochron?
I had taken a class on Conservation Genetics with Dr. Pochron last fall, when she mentioned that she wanted students for an earthworm study. I then enrolled in a one-research credit EHI 487 course in spring 2013, where I became involved in a project looking at the effects of simulated acid rain on earthworm biomass. For that first project where I was essentially getting my feet wet as far as research was concerned, Dr. Pochron gave me the responsibility of figuring how to use a data logger which took data points of temperature and humidity. I learned a lot about the software and I also got into the literature review and wrote a few pieces here and there. It was a great way to start research, and it helped me get exposed to presenting. Then I followed up with a second research project – which took the entire summer, and which I’m still working on for my honors thesis.
For the second project, it took weeks and weeks of figuring out the perfect setup! We spent about two months running pilot studies. We had to figure out how to keep the worms in the flats. …We ran into multiple issues –e.g. with using a hot glue gun; then going with a wire mesh over the flats. While worms were still able to get out, the mesh design was the best option considering this was an outdoor experiment. We had to dig up the dirt behind the greenhouse for this experiment. We didn’t want to have any contamination from fertilizer. There was a lot of labor involved – with sifting the soil, and counting the worms. That took hours upon hours! There were a lot of factors that we had to consider. We had a lot of help too from Mike and John down at the Greenhouse who provided resources (e.g. flats and soil) for us. They were great.
What are the benefits of doing a senior thesis?
One of the biggest things I took away from this was learning to deal with failure. We were so frustrated at times. But Dr. Pochron kept saying, “Keep working at it; you’ll get there.” Going through the process definitely helps you think outside the box, to try and see the big picture, and figure out alternative solutions to the problems that can come up in research.
And as far as the writing process is concerned, it definitely makes you think differently. You learn how to write in a clear, more straightforward way: (you realize you don’t’ need that extra verbiage.) You also get better in learning how to present. Last year when I did URECA for the first time I was a little nervous. Now that I have a stronger sense of the project, I’m looking forward to presenting. I may also present for the BNL admitted students day, and Earthstock.
Tell me about your mentor.
Dr. Pochron is a lecturer in Sustainability Studies and she’s definitely one of my favorite professors on campus. I couldn’t have found a better mentor! Even though she is busy, she would still help us count and take the time to guide us through the research process. She’s so easy-going. She understands how difficult or how intimidating the project may be. It took a while for me to get the methods section together and to take apart the raw data but she helps you through it. One thing she stressed the importance of doing is the literature review. Right now, I have in my bag 30-40 abstracts that I have to review. She also stresses things like taking advantage of opportunities outside the classroom. She really is a mentor for anyone who needs one. When you are doing research, you create a relationship with your mentor and with the other people on your team. And that’s been a great addition to my education here at Stony Brook.
Any advice for other students?
Get involved. Stony Brook is a great university and it’s just getting better and better. I met a lot of great people, people who are willing to help me move forward. I feel confident that I’m going to be prepared for future graduate studies, or whatever comes next.
As far as the research and thesis go, it’s a lot of work- a lot of writing. And you might see your writing come back with red ink but that’s ok. It’s trial and error! – I only really started last year at this time. And looking back on how much I’ve done over the past year, I can see how much I’ve learned. It seemed so daunting when I first started, but it’s definitely worth it! It’s been a good ride and I’m glad I did it.
There are so many research opportunities here. It may seem intimidating at first to go talk to professors. Or that you can’t do it but it’s really not something to be scared about.
What are your long term plans?
I’m working on my MBA with a concentration in health care management. I hope to finish that by next May, and find a lab technician job-something that allows for research. I knew I wanted an experience before I graduated. Studying earthworms was not something I anticipated doing, but it taught me a lot. And it was fun. I’m glad I got the experience for the future.