Published: March 24, 2016

Stefanie sampling soil up on Niwot Ridge against a backdrop of spring wildflowers and mountain views

I am currently working on an honors thesis looking at the effects of anthropogenic nitrogen deposition on alpine microbial soil ecology under the outstanding mentorship of Dr. William Bowman. All of my soil samples come from Dr. Bowman’s nitrogen addition manipulation up on Niwot Ridge at the Mountain Research Station, which is a field site straight out of any ecologist’s dreams! However, because the Bowman Lab primarily focuses on nitrogen’s effects on plants, not microbes, I also sought advice and received an immense amount of support and guidance from the now retired Dr. Norman Pace in the MCDB department and Dr. Noah Fierer in CIRES. In fact, both Drs. Pace and Fierer not only let me use their state-of-the-art facilities, but also connected me with graduate students, lab technicians, and other honors undergraduate students who could help me at every step along the way. If I only obtained the new lab skills that I learned during the course of my project, it would have been well worth the effort.  Fortunately though, I gained much more beyond just relevant lab techniques, and I feel like I have real-world scientific research experience. I also loved my project in particular because I got to choose it myself, and it combined both field and lab work. Especially because I wanted to do research outside the scope of my original adviser’s area of expertise and I had to find ways around budget issues as an undergraduate, this project has required me to get outside of my comfort zone and learn the true value in scientific collaboration and community. Doing this research has also opened doors to fellowships, scholarships, and undergraduate research awards including a UROP grant, Marion and Gordon Alexander Undergraduate Ecology Fellowship, ARCS Scholarship, and Sigma Xi Undergraduate Research Award, and it has been invaluable in making connections that I know will be important to my future as a research scientist. I can’t think of anywhere else or any other program where I would have been granted such an amazing opportunity to collaborate with top scientists in their fields and allowed such freedom to pursue my research interests as a mere undergraduate student, and I would highly recommend the honors program to any student looking to gain something much more valuable than what can be learned in the classroom alone!