How a summer conducting undergraduate research at Gonzaga helped foster my love and passion for wildlife.
For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in the natural world. I spent most of my childhood in my backyard looking for and catching a multitude of different animal species or camping with my family in the great outdoors of Northern California. Once, when I was five years old, I actually had to go to the doctor’s office because a pill bug had crawled up my nose and needed to get removed. I guess you could say that my interest in wildlife started from a young age.
As I matriculated to Gonzaga, I realized that studying wildlife and the natural world was right for me, and I decided to major in Biology. I had briefly heard of undergraduate research for students, but early on in my Gonzaga career it had yet to be on my radar. As I hit my junior year though, I realized that if I am to become a biologist, I would need to gain experience doing actual science research.
That year, I met with several biology professors in the spring semester to investigate what type of research opportunities would be available to me for the upcoming summer. After meeting with several professors, I finally came across a professor who was doing a project on a species that struck me: Marmots. Huh? What? A Marmot? What, you mean like the clothing brand? These were some of the questions that immediately popped in my mind when I first found out about the research. But as the professor explained that the project that I would work on was to see what factors were causing these marmots to become so well adapted to urbanized environments, I knew I was hooked.
That summer of marmot research consisted of me waking up at the break of dawn, and setting up live-traps in which we would catch marmots. Once we would trap a marmot we collect several important bits of data including hair, fecal and blood samples, along with giving it a numbered ear tag for tracking purposes. As you can probably imagine these marmots did not take too kindly to being handled, and some would get aggressive and attempt to bite us. Luckily we wore large leather gloves that inhibited their teeth from touching our skin. I was so happy to be able to channel my inner Steve Irwin (big idol of mine), and wrangle these animals in the name of science.
After the summer concluded, I realized that this field work experience really helped me formulate what I want to do for my career path. Researching wildlife in the field is incredibly important because the more that is known about the wildlife species, the easier it will be to conserve and protect these species for future generations. Having the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research is something I will always be thankful for and I recommend it to any student. The vital skills that are learned conducting research are helpful for any potential career choice, even if these skills include chasing down marmots all around eastern Washington.
Brian Muegge is a senior biology major from Cupertino, CA graduating in December 2016