2014 Toads and nodes project students look back on the past semester, the workshop at NCEAS, and the undergraduate research symposium. During the workshop students from 13 participating universities and colleges combined regional data they had worked all semester to compile a dataset spanning the entire Eastern USA and then use these data to address large scale questions about how land use is related to amphibian decline. The second video is a montage of the VCU students presenting some initial results from this year at the VCU Undergraduate Research Symposium.
Reflections from VCU student representatives to NCEAS workshop
“Amphibian Landscape Ecology has been the most unique class I have taken at VCU. Being a large university, most of the science classes tend to be large lectures. However, this course offered an opportunity to work more closely with Dr. Vonesh as well as my classmates. The content was very well rounded, and we gained experience in a variety of skills essential to ecological research. We gained basic knowledge in the geographic information system qGIS. The open source statistical analysis software R was also used to handle the large data analyses. While these got tedious at times, the end result was definitely rewarding. One of the most important skills we learned was how to write a Sigma Xi style grant proposal. As someone pursuing a career in scientific research, I really appreciated the opportunity to not only write a mock proposal, but also to pitch the proposal to the class and receive peer reviews.
The experience at NCEAS really tied the whole semester together. David Marsh did a great job of leading such a large group of researchers. We started the weekend off with each school giving brief presentations about their class experiences as well as a brief analysis of their group’s data. Afterward, we jumped right into what became the main project for the trip: troubleshooting. There were several obstacles we had to overcome, the largest one involving duplications in the wetland data. Ultimately, the issue was resolved by the last day. It was exciting to see every group’s work finally come together during our analysis. All-in-all I am very grateful to have had this awesome opportunity. If the Toads, Roads, and Nodes project continues in future years, I would strongly recommend it!” – Joey Neale
“At the beginning of Amphibian Landscape Ecology class, now affectionately known as ALE, I was a little intimidated. I remember stepping into our classroom right a 2pm, not really knowing what I would find behind the door. That first day I was introduced to my 11 other classmates, many of them graduating seniors, and most Biology majors, with research experiences under their belts, and I already felt an undertone of competition between us. This course which was suggested by my research mentor Dr. Bulluck, started to feel like it would be a little overwhelming for my second semester in the Environmental Studies program. But, she reassured me to stick it out, and I went onward into the world of memorizing frog calls, learning qGIS, dabbling in R, and writing a proposal which at first seemed like tackling a mountain. Over time however, I grew to know my classmates, actually remembering all their names, and felt that undertone of competition ease away for a while. I began to enjoy listening to the calls and learning natural history facts. When it came time to write my Sigma Xi proposal, that mountain which originally stood before me transformed into those 500 words and two figures that I can now said I’m pretty proud I wrote.
On top of all that I was graced with the opportunity to fly out to NCEAS in Santa Barbara, to meet all the other people around the country to put our data all together and see the final result. Overall I think it was an amazing experience for all us students who got to come to NCEAS, to see how messy science can actually get and how much work is put into a project of this scale. And of course, I’m so thankful for all the guidance I’ve received in this course. Dr. Vonesh made the class a competition which I think pushed me to really put effort in, Julie who was our fearless leader at NCEAS who really served as a guide for us as I think she is a model example to show all the effort that being an upcoming scientist requires, and of course David Marsh who made this project possible in the first place! I thank you all for this amazing opportunity that has changed my outlook on research and has made me a better researcher myself.”– Miranda Foster
“I found the NCEAS research conference in Santa Barbara, CA to be very educational as well as revealing in regards to how collaborative research works. Prior to attending NCEAS I had imagined collaborative research as a group of sagely professors in suits looking through the data and drawing conclusions through means that I could not comprehend. I was quickly dissuaded of that notion when Dr. Marsh walked into the room in shorts and a t-shirt. The representatives from each university were very competent and eager to sift through the massive amounts of data that we were working with. There were definitely unexpected issues in the data, however once the problems were identified we were able to fix them through group effort and hard work. The environment of the conference was very friendly, casual, and most importantly encouraged the students to ask questions and even test hypotheses. I and the other students appreciated the opportunity to see what our semester of hard work had resulted in and I was certainly not disappointed. All in all I believe that the conference was an amazingly informative experience and I think I now have a better understanding of what collaborative research, as well as research in general, is all about.” –Nate Starrett
Check out the rest of this story and learn more about this area of research on Dr. Vonesh’s website: http://wp.vcu.edu/voneshlab/2014/05/14/toads-nodes-2014-thats-a-wrap/