Our next guest blogger is Isabelle. I was fortunate to have her as both a chemistry and a biology student over the course of this year. Her enthusiasm for biology is obvious, infectious, and inspiring. Here she is in her own words.
My name is Isabelle Veilleux. I am 26 years old and I am a Biology student at Northern Essex Community College. I plan to move forward with my education in Biology and hope to continue my career toward research in the science field, working towards green energy and innovative ideas. As I’ve grown into adulthood, I’ve realized that I love nature and everything that has to do with being outdoors. Throughout my time in college, I have established more and more love for science and realized this field is right where I was meant to be. Originally a nursing student at Northern Essex Community College, I quickly changed paths after enrolling and made a firm decision to become a Biology major. Since continuing my education as a biology student, I have learned countless numbers of useful skills used in science and have a completely new perspective on life. I mean that’s what biology is all about right? The study of life and living on this amazing planet, Earth.
Throughout the Fall Semester of 2019, at Northern Essex Community College, introductory biology students spend a substantial amount of time learning about different techniques used in science such as, graphing, mapping, entering data in Excel spreadsheets, identifying cells, reading data, dissection, statistics, and even working with microscopes. Students used the skills they learned in class and in lab to contribute to the research of the gulls on Appledore Island, located approximately a few miles off the coast of Maine.
While some students had experience in working with some of these skills, for others, it was a whole new experience. An experience that was fun and interesting, to say the least!
During the semester, students began to learn more and more about gulls. Students quickly learned that they would be studying and learning about, mainly, two different types of gulls: The Great Black-Backed Gull and the Herring Gull. Once students were able to identify the basic differences between these two gulls, such as color and size, they started exploring other differences between these two birds. Both, differences between two birds, from different species and differences between two birds, from the same species. Differences within the same species or two different species could potentially include different stressors, food sources, or nesting areas. Students then applied the skills they learned in their class and lab to contribute into The Gulls of Appledore Research Group.
One of the first skills biology students learned during this course was how to properly use a microscope. Students read the assigned article and watched the video given by the professor and by the next lab, they would be physically using the microscopes to look at blood smear samples taken by the Appledore Research Group. Before using the microscope in lab, students needed to know what they would be looking at through the microscope. Students needed to learn how to identify the different avian blood cells. There are many different types of avian blood cells, but those of which students looked at were mainly the heterophils and the lymphocytes. Which were key to identifying in order to succeed in the lab.
Throughout the entire lab period of working with microscopes, students were instructed to use the microscopes to identify and count the different number of heterophils and lymphocytes in each field, under high power (400x), at three different locations. These locations are defined as the feathered edge, the monolayer, and the body of blood film, when looking at a blood smear. After each student recorded their own data set. Which were the counts for heterophils and lymphocytes in each field (students were required to count until we hit 50 total blood cells total), students were required to email their data to the professor, who then put all the data into one large spreadsheet, making the sample size much larger. This gave the class an overall larger data sample set to look at. This made it easier for students to see the patterns and differences in cell counts, when comparing to other student’s data sets.
Image of a field through a microscope, of avian blood cells from a 2017 blood smear sample, from the gulls on Appledore Island (2017-23943, 19G68) (A Chick, 7/17)
After researching and recording data from the fields of blood smears, students had come to the conclude that H:L ratios, go hand in hand when looking at stress in birds. When observing stress in gulls, students were asked in lab to dissect a gull that has passed away. Students were instructed to see if they could find anything that may have either caused the bird’s death or could have potentially caused the bird stress in its life. After doing a lot of observing and research, students later learned that H:L ratios indeed are believed by some scientists to have something to do with stress in birds. Specifically, high ratios are found to indicate stress.
Overall, throughout this course students learned many skills in science. Not only did students record the data of cell counts from the 2017 and 2019 blood smears by using the microscopes, they learned different ways of thinking such as making concept maps and dichotomous keys, which were very visual ways to display one’s thoughts. Students also learned about different ways to set up graphs and the different types of graphs, along with, making sure that a graph correctly displays the information being observed. Students also spent a great deal of time in lab learning about data in spread sheets and using functions in Excel to do addition, totals, and find averages. They also learned how to go about reading a spreadsheet and if there was ever any trouble reading it, to look to the data dictionary. The data dictionary is where specifics about the data’s contents, structure, and format can be found.
These skills, that are being taught to introductory biology students at Northern Essex Community College, are a great base for a student with a future career in science. The contributions to The Gulls of Appledore Research Group gives students a real, hands on, look at what it’s like to work, do research, and analyze data out in the science field.