Rachel Shea standing in front of triceratops skull in paleontology hallAbout me

My name is Rachel, I'm currently a junior at CU Boulder studying E-Bio, or Evolutionary Biology and Ecology. I'm also pursuing a minor in sociology and a certificate in Animals and Society. I have strengths in strategic thinking, and a passion for better understanding how the systems of our world work, both natural and social. I am currently working towards earning a professional development microcredential associated with the natural history museum at CU, and I am an assistant researcher working in museum collections. I am really interested in a career that explores the natural world at a microscopic level, but I also have interests in pursuing wildlife preservation, biological systems, animal behavioral research as well. I'm looking for ways I can apply my scientific background to group efforts in discovery of new information, in hopes to preserve our environment while progressing our society towards a better future.

On life path pivots...

As students explored their definitions of success, some of the main facets of “success” that came up for this group were: (1) finding balance, (2) being a changemaker, (3) embracing life pivots, and (4) overcoming obstacles. In preparing for their final showcase, students reflected on one of these aspects and how they related to this aspect of success.

What is your story around this topic?
My short story is that I had a vision of success built around environmentalism, which I still hold, but have added the part about it being to love what you do and spending time and effort to get better at what you’re passionate about. Since getting into college as a senior in high school, I remember wanting to major in environmental engineering because I thought that getting a degree in that field would best allow me to contribute to the efforts of preserving our environment. The rest of my story is about a career/life path pivot that was essential in fulfilling my definition of success.

What have you struggled with in regards to this aspect of success?
I have struggled in feeling successful because I didn’t feel as though I was getting very much meaningful information out of my engineering classes. Though it may fulfill my goals of working towards global sustainability, I was concerned that my potential to be in this field might not be as stimulating day to day. I learned that it’s not worth it to invest a large portion of my time in something that I’m not passionate about, because I think it’s important to enjoy your learning in order to get the most out of my time here as an undergraduate student.

Where have you shined on this aspect of success?
I’ve been really committed to trying my best in my learning, which is part of my definition of success. I think this has been helpful because sometimes you aren’t sure if you enjoy something without giving it a try, so I did commit to studying physics, calculus, and other engineering classes that I was not passionate about in the beginning. By putting in the work, I began to appreciate these hard sciences, and understand why some people would be drawn to study them, but I was also able to realize that I wouldn’t be fulfilled by or passionate about engineering in the same way I have felt about evolutionary biology, ecology and sociology.

What tools have you found to be helpful in navigating this aspect of success?
One tool that has helped me navigate my relationship to my passions is finding ways to share what I’m learning. I really value learning from others and so finding ways I can share the new things that I learn definitely has helped me recognize what I am passionate about. In addition to talking about and integrating my new knowledge into my social expression, reflecting on what I value in my free time has shaped my definition of success as well. Seeing now, how I read evolutionary history books and listen to science podcasts in my freetime, I am sure that my interest for what I’m studying is coming from a genuine place of curiosity. I think doing your own research on things you have any interest in is helpful in discovering your passions and what you may choose to spend more time pursuing.

CHANGE Collective program reflections

Embarking on this program

The first team session was good, I had a lot of fun doing the activities and seeing how we all compare to each other. I liked learning more about my team and getting to know some of them a little bit better.

I'm excited to interview my supervisor at some point in the semester with my coworker, Jeremy! Pat is a really interesting person and has a lot of experience with museum collections, and we share a similar level of excitement about diatoms so I'm definitely looking forward to that part of the program.

I am most hoping to gain experience with my museum job working in a lab. I am really looking forward to using the microscopes with cameras on them so others can see and learn from what we discover during this project we’ll be working on. I hope I will get some experience with classifying new species and learning how to identify other species because what I'm learning in my Evolutionary Biology major, combined with this employment program, is really an amazing opportunity to explore what I could be doing in my future after college.

Mid-year reflection 

I have really enjoyed being part of a community last semester and I am excited to continue this semester! I feel like I have made friends with everyone in the Change Collective and feel like I am a part of a whole. The size of our group is working really well; it’s big enough to offer several diverse perspectives yet small enough to ensure everyone can share their thoughts. It feels like we have gotten a good opportunity to get to know each other. I really love how we function together as a group and it’s interesting how when someone can’t make it to a meeting, we all really feel their absence. I appreciate our grounding exercises we do in the beginnings of meetings and the delicious meals we all share together, of course!

Outside our biweekly meetings, working with Pat and Jeremy has been delightful. I have learned to love going to the lab and the hours just fly right by. I usually am alone in the lab, and I really like having a place with no distractions to work. I also have enjoyed the type of work I’ve been doing in the lab and have found myself documenting my processes via my phone camera of making permanent diatom slides just because I think so many parts of the process are really fascinating and I want to remember the time I spent processing the samples. It’s crazy to me thinking about how I have such an important role in finding new species of diatoms, and I am so honored and inspired to be working with an accomplished diatomist such as Pat. I really appreciate the way Pat guides us through learning about new things and especially his excitement for algae- it’s so great how enthusiastic he is about his work because I think it makes me excited too about diatoms and just about biology stuff in general. I can’t stress enough how well my new major is working out for me and working in a bio lab with microscopes has really enriched my experience this year.

Since the beginning of the semester, I have become obsessed with microscopes and the microorganisms to be seen underneath them. I’m excited to be doing SEM training and taking some micrographs of the diatoms we have been examining. Many times over break, I was thinking about things I could look at under the microscopes in the lab, and how much I wish I had my own at home. I can’t wait to use the big expensive microscopes this semester in the diatom office because they have a camera attached! I love taking pictures/ videos through the basic compound microscopes with my phone, but it's hard to maintain focus and lighting that way. I hope to continue working with microscopes this summer if I can get an internship that correlates with microorganisms.

I must credit these experiences I’ve had in the lab and with Change collective to finding out about interests I did not know I would ever have. For example, I never knew museum collections were really even a thing and I never considered museums a place I might like to work, but I now can see possible careers I might like to have in research with museum collections. In terms of what I wish was different about my experience, I would not change a thing, other than extend the time the program will go on for!

Final program reflection 

In thinking about your involvement in the Change Collective program this year.....

What are you most proud of?
The thing that I’m most proud of is how much I’ve learned about diatoms, how much of the research process I have done on my own, and that I’m contributing a paper discussing a possible new species we discovered, to be proposed to be published in a journal. This is really crazy for me to learn about the writing and publishing process of an academic paper because they’re so important in STEM fields, and I’m super proud of the work I’ve done to contribute to this research.

What was the best thing you gained from this program?
The best thing I’ve gained from this program was a sense of community and learning from others. Until this year I hadn’t found a group of students on campus that I consistently saw and got close with students through. I really feel like my peers know me and I feel like I know them too. This has been really important in coming back to in-person classes this year after a year at home and since losing touch with some of my friends from freshman year. Plus, having Pat and Jeremy in the lab who are as excited about biology as me, has been a really cool dynamic to have since switching majors. It’s inspiring to work with people who are genuinely interested in similar things, and also really interesting to learn from them and everyone else’s experiences in the CHANGE collective.

How do you hope to build upon what you've gained from this program (including any insights around the types of work or experiences that did not work for you)?
I would really love to continue working in the lab and building my skills in writing research papers as I could see this becoming increasingly important for prospective career paths. I also want to make a practice out of reflecting on things more often, such as writing about what I just learned and how the things I learned can be useful to me or others, etc. I’ve found this to help me remember what I reflect on, and just make me think more about things after the fact. Another thing I hope to build on is having meaningful conversations with others. I remember thinking after some team bonding exercises how I don’t really get to talk in a formal-vulnerability way with a lot of people in my life, and I think it would be good to find ways to incorporate some of that into my personal life.

How was your experience with the Sustainable Futures Fest? What felt successful? What would you have changed?
Sustainable futures fest was a really fun experience! It was really great to get the word out about an organism few people have heard of yet plays a large role in my work and our environment. I thought that showing people microscopes was successful for the most part- if I would have changed anything, I would have maybe backed off from people a little bit more after showing them how to focus and move the stage―I think it would’ve given them more space to be curious and really get into what they were looking at if they didn’t feel pressured to listen or move along after a quick look. Overall, it felt successful to share my knowledge about diatoms and teach people how to use microscopes.