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Marine Science Senior Builds on Research Skills in Graduate Program

Published: April 28, 2016
After commencement, Katie Robinson ’16 will begin a master’s program in marine science with an emphasis in coastal and wetland ecology at the University of San Diego.
After commencement, Katie Robinson ’16 will begin a master’s program in marine science with an emphasis in coastal and wetland ecology at the University of San Diego.

Katie Robinson ’16 has a busy May planned.

First she’ll graduate on May 7 with a degree in marine science – biology with a minor in Asian studies. Then she’ll get married to Robert Filipp ’16, a finance major with a minor in accounting, who she met in the President’s Leadership Fellows.

Then one week later they head to San Diego, where they’ll start putting down roots for the next phase of their life as Robinson begins a master’s program in marine science with an emphasis in coastal and wetland ecology at the University of San Diego and Filipp interviews for positions in the financial industry.

“I feel like I belong in the salt marshes, in the mud,” said Robinson, who will focus her research on the California salt marsh habitat and the killifish.

Robinson said her four years at UT and the faculty in the biology department — from their career advice to lab research opportunities — have really made her UT experience as she’s been able to dabble in a range of research methods and topics.

“From looking at the effect of diet on turtle growth to studying zoo plankton distribution in Tampa Bay requires very different skills,” said Robinson, of Waco, TX. “It diversified my skill set and narrowed my decision of what I wanted to do in graduate school.”

Beginning with her tropical biology travel course, which took her to Costa Rica as a freshman, Robinson plunged head first into her studies at UT. As she gained more confidence with each faculty research project she assisted on, she reached out to other professors to take part in their projects.

“As a sophomore, she had a mixture of intelligence, maturity, independence and enthusiasm coupled with a strong work ethic that is rare among early college students,” said Rebecca Waggett, associate professor of biology, who worked with Robinson first when she was assigned as a student mentor to Waggett’s Pathways to Honors course. “As a professor, when you discover a student with such a unique combination of traits, you are compelled to help her foster and nourish them. Beyond that, Katie has such a charming, sweet yet sensible personality that I truly enjoyed working with her.”

When Pathways ended, Waggett asked Robinson to serve as a lab mentor for her Biological Oceanography course and then later to collaborate on a research project, where Robinson’s progress exceeded Waggett’s expectations.

“Over the past three years, her skills as a leader and scientist have blossomed,” Waggett said. “It is exciting to watch her graduate and enter the next phase in her life with a skill set and the motivation to be successful.”

Robinson recently won the Experiential Education Undergraduate Research Award, which was presented at Leadership Awards Night on April 21, for work she completed with Professor Mason Meers, “Effect of diet on growth in Podocnemis unifilis: assessing optimal diets for turtles in conservation oriented head start programs.”

“Turtle species have come under increasing pressures due to habitat loss and exploitation as a local and international food source,” she wrote in the award application. “Many South American and Asian countries do not have the resources to protect essential habitat and prevent local extractions of native turtle species.”

The purpose of the research was to explore the effect of diet on turtle growth in order to assess optimal diets for turtles raised first in captivity with the intent to supplement wild populations.

“Unexpectedly, a portion of this research related to my Asian studies minor,” Robinson wrote in the application. “I was able to apply my knowledge of the Mandarin language to explore various turtle market websites, gaining a unique perspective of the extent of the turtle trade market in China. I also applied my knowledge of certain cultures and customs to understand the complexity behind this market.”

Robinson was able to share the outcomes of the research in a poster presentation at the Florida Undergraduate Research Conference in February of this year and in a submission to the Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

“Through this process of this research, I gained valuable experience working with advanced software, scientific writing, literature review,” Robinson wrote in the application, “but most importantly, I gained an appreciation for the amount of time and effort required to conduct valuable research.”

Those are skills she’ll take with her to California.

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