Freshman living the life aquatic

When you consider Emily Pickering’s lifelong passion for marine biology – childhood trips to Newport to see Keiko the whale; convincing her family, year after year, to see Orcas in the wild off Vancouver Island; becoming SCUBA-certified at age 11 and having 95 dives under her belt by age 19 – it’s unsurprising that she’ll soon count an upcoming research trip to the Bahamas with lionfish expert Mark Hixon among her experiences.

Freshman Emily Pickering is currently in the Bahamas studying lionfish with an OSU research team. She is the only freshman ever allowed on the trip, led by Mark Hixon. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Freshman Emily Pickering is currently in the Bahamas studying lionfish with an OSU research team. She is the only freshman ever allowed on the trip, led by Mark Hixon. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Pickering, a University Honors College student and biology major, is the first freshman ever to accompany Hixon and his group to tiny Lee Stocking Island, where they will spend much of their summer underwater, surveying the invasive lionfish, which decimate other tropical fish populations and threaten coral reefs.

“As a long-time SCUBA diver, Emily is extremely enthusiastic to apply her underwater skills to studying coral reefs,” says Hixon.

Pickering will be heading to the Bahamas with grant money from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which funds undergraduate research. “I was ecstatic when I got the grant,” Pickering says. “Writing it was an amazing experience. I felt so proud of the work I’d done.”

The first time Pickering heard about Hixon’s research at a lecture for incoming Honors students – she thought, “Wow, that could be me.”

From there, it was all about the legwork.

Pickering contacted Megan Cook, an undergraduate who had accompanied Hixon to Lee Stocking Island the year before. She spoke with biochemistry professor and HHMI Director Kevin Ahern, who mentored her throughout the grant process and gave her confidence that she had something to offer Hixon – despite her lack of lab experience and freshman status. And most importantly, Pickering contacted Hixon on her own.

“It was a little intimidating to approach Mark Hixon and say, ‘Hey, I want to work for you,’ but he quickly responded to my calls, and before I knew it, I was in his office talking about his work and being a part of his research team,” says Pickering. Hixon sent Pickering to graduate zoology student Mark Albins, who helped her with the HHMI grant proposal.

“I wrote my version of the proposal and sent it to Mark (Albins). It came back smothered in red ink. But it didn’t matter – I learned so much from the process and from the people I talked to that actually getting the grant almost seemed like an added bonus. It felt good to produce something I had put everything into and that I knew was my best work,”

During her three months on Lee Stocking Island, Pickering will be spending her days helping Albins survey lionfish and with his research on population dynamics. In the free time she has, Pickering will run her own experiments – she’ll be studying lionfish prey preference and digestion.

She will also be blogging about her experiences in the Bahamas, so that readers and students get an idea of what day-to-day life at a research station is like.

To read Pickering’s blog, go to

~ Celene Carillo

Many undergraduates working on research projects this summer

Many Oregon State University undergraduates will be spending time in the field this summer, working on research projects as varied and as important as many that their graduate student counterparts will be exploring during the break.

The stories of a handful of those undergraduate researchers will be shared in the summer edition of Terra research magazine, which you can find at

Here is a sample of some of the people featured in Terra.

Who: Ishan Patel, first year student in bioengineering and the University Honors College
What: Johnson Scholarship to work on an experimental model to simulate pressure drive bleeding at Oregon Health Science University.
What else: At OHSU, Patel will work with Owen J. T. McCarty, an expert in cell transport in arteries. Medical researchers have had limited success in simulating arterial bleeding, says Patel.

Who: Alexa Carey, sophomore in business, speech communications and the University Honors College.
What: Project manager for the annual Young Entrepreneurs Business Week summer camp, July 19-25 at OSU.
What else: Along with three friends, Carey has created Project Earth, a program to teach children how to run a business and create a marketable product and a set of long-term goals. They’ve already taken the project to Gold Beach, and hope to one day take it to Brazil.

Who: Shalynn Pack, junior in zoology
What: This summer she’ll work at Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya with the Kenyan Wildlife Service on protecting threatened wildlife.
What else: At OSU, Pack has studied molecular genetics in salamanders, served as a mentor in a science education program and volunteered for the Homeless Gardens Project.

~ Nick Houtman

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