WIU to the Ocean Blue

Hi there! My name is Katie Reiss (married name Bazan) and I was an honors undergraduate student in Dr. Bonnan’s lab. This is my story of how working in the FMEA lab. I met Dr. Bonnan when I took his embryology class fall semester of 2005. He was by far my favorite professor (even today). I could immediately tell that he had a drive for teaching and advising students. At the time I hadn’t chosen a project for my honors thesis and wasn’t really sure what to choose. I attended Western to become strong in the basics of biology, but I was odd because I loved sharks (not too many of those in Macomb, IL). I was interested in finding a project that had something to do with sharks. Dr. Bonnan came up with an idea about measuring shark tails and looking at the changes in their shape as the sharks grew. I never thought I would become so fascinated by shark tails, but I did.

That’s the great thing about Dr. Bonnan is that he knows how to tie what you are interested in with a doable project. He always said it doesn’t work if the student isn’t interested in the project. Becoming a student in Dr. Bonnan’s lab was the best thing that ever happened to me at Western. Spring semester of 2006 I took his comparative anatomy class. Once again I found myself loving a subject I never knew existed! The treasure hunts of trying to find muscles and struggling to skin the darn cat are what I remember most. The knowledge he shared about comparative anatomy seemed to come in handy everywhere I went.

During the summer of 2006, I was accepted into the Mote Marine lab’s REU program for the summer in Sarasota, Florida. One of the main reasons they chose me was because of my undergraduate honors thesis with Dr. Bonnan. Equipped with the knowledge I gained in Dr. Bonnan’s comparative anatomy class, I could open up sharks and know where all the organs were located. On one trip my friend and I saved four blacknose shark pups to preserve. I couldn’t take them with me, so she brought the sharks up to Michigan in a cooler. They remained in her freezer until I could retrieve them. That’s how Dr. Bonnan inspired me. I was always curious about everything and always asking questions. I gave him one of those blacknose pups and the other one is in my room.

My project allowed me to travel to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, IL and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C during the summer of 2006 as well. I was so excited to dive into my undergraduate thesis by going to measure and take pictures of spiny dogfish shark tails at the Smithsonian. I was there for a week and it was an amazing experience. I never thought I could say that I’ve helped dissect a hippo leg or seen the “bug room” where they put bones to be cleaned by beetles. I spent my days elbow deep in preservative fishing out sharks to measure from huge tanks at the museum. After that trip came the difficult part of every thesis…analyzing the data. My statistics skills were very lack luster (and are still rusty even now), but Dr. Bonnan was always patient and willing to help. Over the course of that year we worked on my thesis and made it into a publishable paper.

In the summer of 2007, I was able to present my very first platform presentation at the national meeting of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) in St. Louis, MO. It was incredible to be that little fish in a huge ocean of scientists. Some friends from my summer program where there and we marveled at all the scientists we had read about. Amazingly, I did not spend all of my time in the “shark room”, but traveled from room to room listening to talks about anatomy, thin plate splines, and even parasitology. Dr. Bonnan had broadened my horizons to not just think about my organism, but to be interested in the science being applied. I gave my presentation on Friday the 13th with my family there for support. That presentation eventually turned into a publication in the Anatomical Record!

With Dr. Bonnan’s help I was accepted into a great marine biology graduate school at the College of Charleston. I’m working on finishing my master’s degree which involves working with live sharks. Although my work doesn’t have much to do with anatomy (except for when I try to locate the thyroid gland in sharks), everything I have learned from Dr. Bonnan has stayed with me. He will teach you the fundamentals of research science, so you can become the scientist you want to be. Some advisors are never there for their students or are often too wrapped up in their own research to care about their students. Dr. Bonnan is a world class scientist who cares about his students, which is a very rare combination. Even rarer is that he is humble and will always tell you what he does isn’t a big deal (even though it really is!). Many scientists in his position would have an attitude of “I’m the world’s best scientist and students are a waste of time” (believe me I’ve meet some). This is a person who spends his summers digging up dinosaur bones and comes back to Western to help students learn.

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One Response to WIU to the Ocean Blue

  1. Pingback: FMEA students present at Undergraduate Research Day | The WIU FMEA Blog

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