Science gets messy in CSUF boot camp for future biologists – Orange County Register

Read about a lab experiment, and it sounds logical.

Perform a lab experiment, and it seems inevitable.

Get out and do an experiment in the field?

That’s when things get messy, said Bill Hoese, professor of biological science. Sometimes up-to-the-knees-in-mud messy.

Undergraduate students learn that lesson each summer in the Southern California Ecosystems Research Program run by Cal State Fullerton. In a three-week boot camp, students interested in pursuing careers in ecology and environmental biology run intensive short-term research projects in local ecosystems.

Students Amber Sanderson, Brittany Cook and Shannon Chou pose in the rocky intertidal zone while conducting experiments over the summer. (Photo courtesy of Bill Hoese)

“How do you teach students the process of doing research when we don’t know the answers?” asked Hoese, who serves as program director. “When you go to a lab, the answer is known – whereas science is really a lot messier than that.”

The scientific method, he explained, might involve designing an experiment, running the experiment, getting results when you don’t know what they mean, answering a question differently and then modifying your experiment.

Besides the boot camp each summer, SCERP scholars receive up to two years of faculty mentorship as they pursue their own research and travel to scientific conferences to present their findings. They also get help developing a plan to reach their career goals.

“So they can go on and be scientists themselves,” Hoese said. In fact more than 90 percent of former SCERP scholars are still in biology in one form or another, he said. Several work for local agencies or environmental consulting firms.

Cal State Fullerton student Holly Suther weighs samples of golden rockweed to examine changes in mass after low tide exposure. (Photo courtesy of Bill Hoese)

The program, started in 2002, was funded by the National Science Foundation until this year, when it was funded by philanthropic donations.

The students spent their first week surveying oysters in Newport Bay and San Diego Bay, the second week studying how native and non-native morning glories get pollinated and the third week seeing what effect temperature and light have on intertidal algae.

“This cemented their interest and their realization that they are really doing novel work. They get turned on by the natural habitat,” said Danielle Zacherl, professor of biological science, who oversaw the first week’s…

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