Help with undergraduate research?

nephiarising

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Hey all,

Long time, no post. I'm nearing the conclusion of my undergraduate studies and have my eye on going to graduate school for freshwater ecology. I'd ideally like to focus on aquatic salamanders like necturus, siren, and amphiuma species but I've hit a road block in my education plan.

A professor that I reached out to for graduate school acceptance has advised me to get some research experience under my belt, but no one at my small, rural school has any herpetology research going on. Other ecology research labs are full and will remain full until about a month before I graduate. I want to tackle a research question independently, but I have no clue what I'm doing and I'd love to hear from a professional about the feasibility of such a project or about any specific tips for completing it.

I think it would be possible for me to accomplish field research surrounding population characteristics, habitat distribution, or morphology of a few local species. I've been interested in targeting Siren intermedia for my research species as it's fairly abundant here and would be small enough to use inexpensive traps to sample populations. The professor I hope to work under in graduate school studies the effect of UV-B radiation on amphibians, so I was ideally hoping to examine ephemeral ponds with different average UV-B exposure levels. I don't think this is going to be possible for a broke college student though, so I'd love to get some feedback on any similar topics that may be a bit easier to handle!

Lastly, do I even stand a chance of getting an article published as a lone undergrad? I've heard conflicting (but mostly negative) things from the faculty at my university but I still want to put the effort in if there's even a small chance. If I'm not published, is there a way I can still present any independent research in a meaningful way?

Thanks for any input you can give me. Let me know if this if off topic or if there's any other information I can provide!
 

Tarabull

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I think what you are doing is great. I own a siren intermedia (soon to be two) and there is so little research out there on them. Even if you don't get published, your findings on elusive sirens would come in handy for people. I wish you luck.
 

salvoz

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To the extent that you want to work with this professor, I'd try to demonstrate to him your interest (and ability) by collecting and analyzing data from your population to offer to him, regardless whether it actually proves/disproves any hypothesis. Obviously, it would be great if he helped you determine what may be relevant to look for, but it doesn't need to make the front page of Science and you can take your best shot after reading some of the existing literature. Perhaps examine the correlation between morphological features (color, SVL, mass, etc.) and a handful of relevant environmental variables that could relate to to UV-B exposure/effects (water depth, surrounding veg, turbidity)?? I have no idea as you can plainly see but you catch the drift - collect some data (any data), evaluate data with some basic stats and present it to him, no strings attached. You've got a very slim chance, I think, of publishing in a peer-reviewed journal as an undergrad and it would be, I think, not worth your time trying to do so just to get into a program. I certainly had not published anything (in a real journal) before I went to grad school, and I suspect that is most often the case.
 

Blackbun

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Well Nephia research takes a great deal of time and your scientific method must be rigorous. Yes you can publish to a scientific journal without a supervisor. There are a great many and you will find that they follow a particular discipline e.g. Fresh water ecology, cell biology, and you will find that some are easier to have work published in than others. Many university departments gain their funding based on points which are allocated according to the number of publications and more points in the real popular journals e.g. Nature. That is very very difficult to publish in. To get your work published choose your journal carefully and realistically. When submitting your work you will need to present it in the exact format the journal requires and this goes right down to margin sizes etc. You can request this information. Your work will go to at least one referee who will go through it with a fine toohed comb and will either reject it outright or accept it with modifications. They will be thorough as it's their reputation on the line. These modifications may simply be in its presentation or requesting a bit more data. It will need to contain cited authors throughout. Best thing is to find a journal and then do your research accordingly. The time period between submission and hearing feed back can be several months and publication after a year. It's a slog but worth it. Your research must be original and contributes to scientific knowledge.
 

curtpw

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Why do you want to go to grad school? I have met so very many people who get a masters or even PhD in some bio field with little private sector demand and end up high school teachers (not that becoming a High School teacher is anything other than awesome!). Usually, an undergrad would be working with a lab group let by a professor and they would be an author on papers produced by the lab. Peer reviewed research papers often have dozens of authors, sometimes hundreds if you are a physicist. I can't imagine getting into a decent grad school without being an author on a couple papers. Sounds like you need some better faculty mentorship. FYI I am a research engineer who works primarily with medical devices.
 
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