This past summer, University of New Hampshire (UNH) undergraduate students had the chance to get their hands full and conduct research on campus again. Whether it be investigating behavioral correlations with substance use or studying bee pollination in New Hampshire, UNH’s undergraduate researchers were busy this summer and their work shows it.
Senior environmental science student Natalie White conducted full-time research for College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS) Professor Ruth Varner, dedicating time to asking and answering questions about the environment.
When asked what sparked her initial interest in research, White responded, “I had heard of so many incredible opportunities to learn new skills, get hands-on experience, and connect with faculty who have so much to share.”
With the help of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), White’s research centered around methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. “My research focused on methane emissions from temperate wetland and forest soils in New Hampshire,” White explained. “Methane emissions from wetlands are the largest source of atmospheric methane and a change in emission rates affects the global methane budget. My two field sites have long historical records which provide a point of comparison for the measurements I made this summer. Long-term datasets like these are crucial for climate modeling and predicting future environmental conditions.”
However, research almost never comes without challenges. “The main challenge I ran into this summer was the incredible amount of rain we received,” White said. “My research was mostly field-based, and you can imagine what standing out in the rain for hours is like, especially when attempting to label bottles in Sharpie and write in a field notebook.”
But with challenges also comes growth and productivity, both personal and academic. “I think the biggest takeaway I got from this experience was knowing that I’m capable of doing good, hard work in unfavorable conditions,” White explained. “I believe this position strengthened me as a person because it gave me room to grow. Each week I strategized what needed to get done and what the priorities for the week were because not everything can get done despite how much we want it to.”
Undergraduate research is also helpful in terms of shaping experience and skills for long-term career goals. Research projects can help discover passions and spark interests to guide students in finding long-term work they may want to pursue. “In five years, I hope to see myself working with communities on climate adaptation strategies that focus on social justice,” White said. “I hope the research that I conducted contributes to better predictions of how atmospheric methane levels are going to change, which in turn can prepare communities for the environment that they will soon find themselves in.”
As a leading institution in research, UNH has countless opportunities and ways to get involved in research. “Don’t be scared to speak with your professors, and don’t assume that just because you don’t have prior experience you won’t be qualified for a research position,” White advised. “Everyone is learning all the time.”
To see other projects and get involved in research at UNH, visit the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research.