Laura Petes was first drawn to OSU because of its role in a uniquely collaborative marine science program. In her five years of graduate studies here, she has stretched the concept of collaboration across disciplines, finding the expertise she needs for marine invertebrate research in colleagues who study fish, anemones, and llamas.
Laura, the 2006-07 University Club Graduate Fellow, will be receiving her Ph.D. this spring in zoology. She's working under Drs. Jane Lubchenco and Bruce Menge, who head the internationally renowned Partnership for the Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) project. PISCO is a consortium of four west coast universities, working together in such fields as marine community ecology, physiology, genetics, and oceanography.
"The fact that we're able to get information from the entire west coast of North America is incredibly valuable," Laura says. "This project has been gathering data for about nine years. That allows us to look at large-scale, long-term questions, which is a very unique and powerful approach."
Laura's area of interest is ecophysiology, in which physiological changes in organisms are used to measure and explain patterns at a community level. Her dissertation focuses on how temperature affects the physiology and reproduction of key species, specifically marine mussels, and how this in turn affects the community.
OSU's zoology program encourages interdisciplinary studies, and Laura has reached well beyond her advisors' lab to develop skills in physiology and reproductive biology. She tapped the expertise of researchers throughout the university to learn the methodologies she needed for her research, and joined in discussion groups from the fields of both ecology and physiology.
"I feel like I now have an intellectual support network that is extraordinarily strong," she says. "I have formed many connections with individuals that I will now collaborate with for the rest of my scientific career."
Laura's advisors say she is opening new areas of study, tailoring techniques and knowledge developed for vertebrates to invertebrates such as mussels. Laura attributes her success to the willing collaboration of her colleagues.
"One great thing about OSU is that I've never been told 'no' if I asked to work with someone, use their space, or share their knowledge," she says. "There's not a lot of competition between labs or individuals, and that definitely advances the field of science. To get a comprehensive understanding of a complex issue, we need to use multiple approaches and involve people with different backgrounds and skills."
Before coming to OSU, Laura did substantial research as an undergraduate at Cornell University. Now she is committed to providing similar opportunities for other young students. She has been an enthusiastic teaching assistant in the Marine Biology course at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center on the coast, and has mentored nine undergraduates with dreams of becoming marine scientists.
"Getting the opportunity to work in a research lab as an undergraduate was what made me realize that science was what I wanted to do," she says. "That's why I make it a priority to provide that kind of opportunity to undergraduates here — because it can be a life-changing experience."
Laura has written a number of proposals since she's been in the graduate program and has been quite successful at attracting funds. Among her honors is a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, earned in her second year of graduate school. Her advice to students starting out in the marine sciences is to seek out every opportunity to get into the lab, even in the undergraduate years.
"Research is what we do, and sometimes it's tedious and sometimes it's frustrating, but if you love it at the end of the day, you know it's a good path to follow."