For those interested in creating a more sustainable future through scientific innovation, this summer research opportunity is perfect. I worked for ten weeks in the Sharkey lab with Dr. Sarathi Weraduwage on measuring the effects of cold stress on Arabadopsis mutants that were engineered to emit isoprene. Isoprene is a hemiterpene emitted by some plants that has been shown to improve resistance to heat, oxidative stress, and perhaps even herbivory. We were working on seeing if there are any trade-offs that would make isoprene-emitting plants more susceptible to cold stress. This would have implications for how isoprene-emitting plants respond to climate change, and also for isoprene-emitting poplars, which are being considered as a biofuel crop. Throughout the process, I learned many skills for researching plants, like gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence, growth metrics, metabolite extractions, and the data analysis that went along with all of that. It was an excellent chance to get a taste of what a PhD might be like in the plant sciences.
We also went on many field trips that gave us insight in the many aspects of research and innovation in sustainability research. This included trips to farms, to an anaerobic digester, an ethanol production plant, etc. We also had many professional development seminars that informed us on topics from applying to graduate school to fiscal responsibility. While you’re on the MSU campus, you also have the opportunity to get into contact with other PI’s that may be conducting research that you’re interested in. Being one of the best places for plant research in the world, MSU has a wide distribution of research, and I found that all the faculty I talked to were very friendly and happy to chat.
Aside from any of the science, there was a lot to do in our free time. It was great getting to know the other people in the program, as well as the people in the lab. And although East Lansing itself may not have much, but there are plenty of places around Michigan to explore, if you can survive the terrible Michigan roads. I must also say that the free housing and food was a bonus. All in all, I would highly recommend applying for this program if you want to develop your future in the sciences and make some pretty good money while you’re at it.