Field Research: Earning My Fins

Hi! My name is Sam, and I am one of the newest grad-student recruits to the Smith Lab! I just finished up my undergraduate career at UCSD this summer, and I am now embarking on my first quarter of the integrated M.S. program through the UCSD Biology department.

During my undergrad studies at UCSD, I was lucky enough to take a few classes taught by Dr. Jennifer Smith. It was in those classes that I learned a bit about her and the research that goes on in the Smith Lab. After a semester abroad in Australia during my senior year, I decided that I had absolutely fallen in love with coral reef ecology!

Shortly after my participation in Jen’s new phycology (study of algae and seaweed) class last winter quarter, I approached her about wanting to work in the lab as an undergraduate researcher. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to get more out of my time here at UCSD, and after a few weeks, some application forms, a research plan, and a short written personal statement, I was accepted into the integrated B.S./M.S. program. This program is unique from a traditional Master’s program, as it allows accepted students to complete part of their research while still enrolled as an undergrad, making it possible to walk with a graduate degree in as little as 5 years.

Samantha & Emily are all smiles after an afternoon dive in Kapalua Bay

My research project involves study of the interactions between coral, algae, and the herbivorous fishes that help control algal abundance on the coral reefs of Hawaii, specifically on the west coast of Maui. I spent most of my summer in Hawaii learning how to do field work and collecting data for my project. Emily Kelly, my dive buddy and mentor, taught me everything there is to know about conducting field work on the west coast of Maui. I had no idea before I began that field work would include lifting so many 5-gallon bottles of sea water, walking so far in full scuba gear, and entering so much data (to so many hours of the movie Anchor Man)! Did I mention coffee? There was a lot of that involved, too – delicious, locally grown, Maui coffee!

Over the course of my two month field season, I feel that I learned more than I’ve ever learned in any classroom – I also got a killer workout lugging around heavy equipment and burning tons of calories maintaining my body temperature underwater! After logging a total of 56 dives (not including skin-dives), adding up to over 72 total hours of diving this summer, I definitely feel as though I’ve earned my fins!


I am feeling so welcome into the Smith Lab family, and I’m excited to start looking at all the data and samples that I collected during my pilot field season! Here’s looking forward to an exciting year!