Paige Duffin graduated from the University of North Florida’s Coastal Biology Flagship Program in 2014. Here is her testimony about how UNF prepared her for the next steps in her career.
Growing up, I loved the natural sciences. But I feared I wasn’t suited for the rigorous coursework of a biology student. I was nervous about enrolling in Biology I Honors in the fall of 2011 but by the end of the semester, my professor, Dr. Waddell, offered me a coveted position in his molecular genetics research lab! I gained self-confidence, and this experience was a turning point in my undergraduate degree. The UNF Biology Department ignited a passion within me that I would have never found on my own.
Some of my experiences include conducting independent research in for three and a half of my four undergraduate years at UNF. Through my involvement in his lab, I attended and presented at conferences across the country in places like San Diego, Boston and West Palm Beach. I had the rare opportunity to fully immerse myself in the scientific world, through critiques from fellow scientists, conversations with esteemed researchers and observance of others’ work. Additionally, through the production of several research posters and contributing to a publication based on my research, I learned to interpret and compile raw data into a meaningful and complete story line. I’ve worked through every step of the scientific method at a level of difficulty and involvement that is impossible to obtain in a traditional classroom setting.
While the majority of my undergraduate research involved molecular genetics, I’m very interested in the field of coastal ecology. I had unique opportunities that catered to my true passion: the aquatic world. In 2013, I embarked on a five-week summer study program through the Florida Institute of Oceanography. As one of thirteen undergraduate marine biology enthusiasts, I traveled around the state of Florida to various universities over the course of a month. Each week, we focused on a different marine ecosystem, learning through exclusively hands-on experiences including 14 hours on the Weatherbird II Research Vessel in the Gulf of Mexico where we collected, identified and charactered benthic and pelagic organisms that we pulled up from the depths of the ocean.
I also worked on several coral research projects over the course of three summers under the direction of Dr. Cliff Ross, both at the University and the MOTE Marine Lab in the Florida Keys. In 2012, I assisted with a project that examined the synergistic effects of global (elevated temperature) and local stressors (algal overgrowth) on coral larvae by exposing them to elevated temperature and Dictyota menstrualis. In 2013 and 2014, we worked on several projects that examined the effects of mosquito control pesticides on selected life history stages of corals. More specifically, we assessed the physiological effects of certain insecticides and pesticides on the sub-lethal stress response of P. astreoides.
Finally, during my last two semesters as an undergraduate, I was given a supplemental instructor position teaching genetics, leading a review course held once a week; this was an experiment initiated by the UNF Biology Department to see if peer teaching improved student success in the course. I loved the challenge and found a competency in teaching. This positive experience was the major inspiration in my decision to work towards the career goal of becoming a biology professor and researcher myself. I’m currently pursuing my master’s degree at the University of North Florida. I’m confident that this University and the Biology Department will continue to invest all its energy and resources into my success, as it has in the past.
I firmly believe that the individualized attention and motivation I received from my mentors not only profoundly shaped the quality of my academic career at the University of North Florida but also the course of my life regarding my goals and aspirations. Thank you to the University of North Florida, and more specifically, the Biology Department, for your dedication to me that so fundamentally impacted my educational experience in college.
2014 UNF Graduate
Learn more about the Coastal Biology Flagship program at UNF on their website.