Stephanie Gunby: Dart Scholar Update

Stephanie Gunby, a 2016 Dart Scholar, received the William A. Dart Memorial University Scholarship. Stephanie studies marine and freshwater biology at The University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Over the past years Stephanie’s interests, spanning geography, environmental science and marine biology, have seen her involved in a wide array of projects and this summer, she is heading to the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews, New Brunswick to take part in a marine biology and oceanography field course through the university. The field course is a two-week research course where students conduct both group and individual projects. Stephanie’s project is an investigation of how the size of green sea urchins affects their preference for rock size and type. Read on to learn more about Stephanie, her experience as a Dart Scholar and her upcoming course.

What led you to apply for the William A. Dart Memorial University Scholarship?

The William A. Dart Memorial University Scholarship was actually the only scholarship I applied for on island!

I wanted to apply for a scholarship that would not only provide funding for university but would afford me additional opportunities to become more involved in the local community. Dart has a tremendous amount of ties within the community island-wide and as a result of my involvement as a Dart Scholar, I have been afforded opportunities which have molded me into a more well-rounded student, scientist and Caymanian.

How has being a Dart Scholar helped you achieve your dreams of studying and researching marine and freshwater biology?

To be a Dart Scholar means something big. Not only does it come with a sense of pride as you represent a small part of a very big enterprise, but it means opportunity. Being a Dart Scholar, I have had the chance to work in my field both within the company and outside of Dart in the wider community. As a result of these experiences, I have gained nothing but confidence in myself to believe that anything is attainable and that at the end of the day I will have the support of the Dart family behind me, encouraging me to achieve my fullest potential. 

Tell us more about the course you at taking this summer and why you’re taking it.

When it comes to marine biology, I love anything that's hands-on. I seek out adventure so I figured that taking the Marine Biology and Oceanography field course would be a great way to get out in the field and get my hands dirty while building up my research experience. The course is a two-week program based out of the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. During the first week we'll do group activities such as intertidal surveys at low and high tides, benthic trawls, plankton trawls and whale watching. From these activities we'll collect data and survey and identify organisms to put together a group project that will be decided once we're there. The second week is all about our individual research projects which we've been planning over the last two months. For my project, I'll be looking at green sea urchins both in the field and in the lab to identify how their preference for a particular substrate affects their abundance and distribution along different intertidal zones. 

What will your day to day routine be?

Our day-to-day routine will change a bit depending on what activity we're doing but we'll usually start anywhere from seven to nine in the morning prepping the lab to bring back specimens from various locations that we visit each day. The first week we'll be doing a bit of driving back and forth to different intertidal sites so we'll be outside in the field a lot, searching for, collecting and identifying various specimens. The second week everyone will be on their own schedules completing their individual projects. For my project, I'll spend about three quarters of my time outdoors at sample sites and the rest of the time in the lab.  

What are you most looking forward to with the course?

I'm most looking forward to starting my individual project. I worked really hard in the planning process and am excited to be able to independently conduct some research in the field. This is the first time I've ever designed my own experiment and will be able to carry it out from start to finish, so I'm very excited about that. 

You are starting your fourth and final year of your honours undergraduate degree in Marine and Freshwater Biology at the University of Guelph in the fall, what’s next for you?

Before I graduate, I'll also be completing an in-depth thesis research course as a part of my program. A thesis isn't a mandatory part of my program but many students choose to partner with a professor and carry out their own research project based on that professor’s own research. In the past, some students' work has gone on to be published in various scientific journals. The professor I'll be working with was my favourite physiology professor. He studies the physiology of cardiac tissue in hagfishand is hoping that his research will prove useful in the medical field. Hagfish are deep-sea creatures that feed on dead fish and other-sea creatures and live for extended periods in hypoxia (conditions with low to no oxygen). During this time their hearts continue beating without oxygen. However, human hearts suffer permanent damage in these conditions after just a couple of minutes. The research is about finding out how the hagfish keeps its heart functional without damage in these conditions and seeing if the same techniques may be applicable to preserve human heart tissue when it suffers traumas like heart attacks.

When I finish my undergrad, I'll hopefully pursue a master’s degree also at Guelph. While there isn't specifically a marine biology master’s program at Guelph, I'm considering a master’s in integrative biology as it's a very comprehensive program. I would also be able to partner with a professor doing marine-related research that I find interesting. I love learning and I think this may be a good option for me, as pursuing an integrative biology masters will allow me to become a better-rounded scientist, proficient in not only marine-related issues but broadening my knowledge to include freshwater-related issues and even aquaculture. 

Another option is to complete my masters at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), the best vet school in Canada, which is linked to and affiliated with the University of Guelph. It would be a bit more challenging to find a professor to work with from the OVC that is undertaking marine-related research but there are a few! If I was to go this route, I think I would consider their pathobiology masters ‘program.

I have a few different options after I complete my undergrad but either way I still have a good amount of school ahead of me! 

Did you enjoy your experience at Guelph University?

I really love Guelph - both the town and the university. It's a smaller town and the university really strives to create a tight-knit community which makes it feel like home. I feel very comfortable at Guelph which is part of the reason why I'm considering a masters here - I'm not really ready to leave yet, or to change schools! I have become involved behind the scenes working in labs and doing volunteer work and also designed the new logo for the marine biology club on campus which is now on all of their apparel and posters.

Do you have any advice for other students that are looking at studying STEM subjects?

My best advice would be to just go for it. Why not do it? If a STEM subject is something you're interested in or think you might be interested in, explore that. Find opportunities to give yourself more experience in what you're interested in. Life is too short to wonder "what if."

I didn't plan to study marine biology at university. In fact, I took a leap of faith and chose marine biology at the last moment over an arts degree in film production. I haven't looked back since and at the end of the day I believe I made the right decision for myself because I knew I couldn't live with pursuing a film degree and always wondering "what if I did marine biology," "what if I did a science program," etc. Personally, it's better to try and say "oh well" than to not try and always wonder "what if." So, my advice is to always believe in yourself, even if other people don't think you can do something - prove them wrong. You can do anything you set your mind to. If you want it enough, nothing is unattainable.