Aug. 16, 2013
Contact: Amber Roberts, Communications Assistant
Earlier this month, Maryville College junior Ravyn Thompson completed a 10-week competitive internship at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla. The experience, offered to only 10 undergraduates from across the country, was made possible by the National Sciences Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program.
Students who are selected for the program conduct independent research projects under a mentor’s guidance. Participants have the opportunity to build communication skills by presenting their findings in both a written report formatted for a scientific manuscript and at a lab-wide poster symposium.
“It is an excellent resume-building experience that will help Ravyn gain admission to graduate school in the future, regardless of whether she stays in marine science or shifts to another field in biology or biochemistry,” said Dr. Jennifer Brigati, associate professor of biology at MC and Thompson’s academic adviser.
When Thompson, a biochemistry major at the College, began looking for science-related summer internships during the past academic year, marine biology was not the first thing that came to her mind.
“I was sitting at my computer one afternoon, looking up different types of internships, with most of my focus on biomedical research at medical schools. I hadn't thought about marine biology since middle school, but I thought I would give it a try. That's when I started searching for biomedical programs within marine science and came across the REU program,” Thompson said.
During the internship, Thompson performed a series of experiments using the white blood cells of the clearnose skate, a member of the cartilaginous fish family that includes sharks, skates and rays. The purpose of these experiments was to collect preliminary data that will be used later in researching the effect of environmental quality on the species’ immune system.
“In class labs, the professor generally knows the expected results, but the research I'm doing here has never been performed using skates. I’ve spent most of my time working on methodology through trial and error by tweaking one thing or another,” Thompson said in an earlier interview.
Founded in 1955, Mote Marine Laboratory is an independent nonprofit organization and has seven centers for marine research, the public Mote Aquarium and an education division, specializing in public programs for all ages. The laboratory staff numbers more than 190, including 30 doctoral-level scientists.
Throughout her summer internship experience, Thompson became proficient in a diversity of cellular and molecular research techniques and gained the confidence to work independently in the laboratory. According to Thompson’s research mentor at Mote, Dr. Jennifer Yordy, the work that Thompson has completed while in the REU program has provided valuable insight that future REU participants will be able to build on in later programs.
“Ravyn is a hard-working and highly motivated individual with a strong interest in pursuing a career in scientific research,” Yordy said. “From the short time I’ve spent with Ravyn, it’s clear that she has a promising career in science ahead of her.”
The hands-on approach that the REU program provides has allowed Thompson to hone in on her career plans.
“My goal for the future is to get my Ph.D. after I obtain my undergraduate degree and then do some type of research,” she said. “There are so many different types of fields within science, but this internship has helped point me towards biomedical research and possibly continuing with marine organisms.
“I love how got a taste of what research is really like at a nonprofit laboratory. As of right now, research is my career choice, so to gain the experience of actually working at a lab conducting experiments everyday is the best part to me.”
Thompson, the daughter of Allen and Shasta Thompson of Knoxville, Tenn., is a 2011 graduate of Halls High School.
Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state‘s third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for its academic rigor and its focus on the liberal arts, Maryville is where students come to stretch their minds, stretch themselves and learn how to make a difference in the world. Total enrollment for the fall 2013 semester was 1,168.