Welcome LSU 21' students! As we enter a new academic year, we will be highlighting some of LSU's most outstanding current students, prospective students, alums, graduate students, faculty, researchers and staff here on The Pursuit! Hear from them what it's like to be a part of the LSU community, from studying abroad in Alaska, to starting a business after graduation, to conducting groundbreaking research.
Today we are featuring Sydney Clark, an LSU biological sciences alum. Sydney came to LSU as a transfer student from Illinois. She came to LSU specifically to pursue marine biology, and currently hopes to accomplish her dream of getting a PHD in marine biology somewhere in North Carolina.
LSU College of Science: What is your background? What inspired you to go into marine biology?
Sydney: I'm originally from Rossville, a small town of 1,500 people in Illinois. I attended Danville Area Community College, where I received my associate degree in science and arts. Science was the one subject in grade school that truly intrigued me, and I found it to be my "niche." I have always had a love for the ocean and the critters within it, so when my mom realized my passion for the ocean she encouraged me to follow it and make it my career.
LSU College of Science: What made you choose LSU?
Sydney: I chose LSU because it had always been a dream of mine to attend an SEC university. What mostly made me choose LSU was that they offered marine biology, and I was up for the adventure of moving away from home, so LSU it was! Love my Tigers!
LSU College of Science: When did you first realize you liked marine biology?
Sydney: I was five years old when I realized that I liked marine biology, all thanks to a children's book on sharks.
LSU College of Science: We are told you love sharks! What is your favorite shark?
Sydney: I love them all! But if I had to chose one, it would be the Great White. They are such magnificent creatures, and it's a goal of mine to see one breach in real life.
LSU College of Science: You studied marine biology abroad in Alaska while at LSU. Can you tell us about that experience?
Sydney: Alaska was one of the best experiences of my life! It was the first time I felt like I was doing real science. I loved being outside and performing research just as real researchers do every day. In my undergraduate research class with Dr. Barry Aronhime, we looked into the zonation of the rocky intertidal. I loved every bit of being outside and by the water, finding an abundance of algae, mussels and sea stars.
This little taste of how research works made my decision to pursue biology as a career so much more solid. It is hands down what I want to do with my life. It was also awesome to see glaciers in real life, but at the same time disheartening to witness the effects of climate change.
We went whale watching and got to see a humpback whale breach, I believe five times. Talk about a breathtaking moment! The state was so beautiful, and I would recommend to all students to take the opportunity to go if they can.
LSU's Marine Biology in Alaska program offers students an opportunity to study rocky shoreline habitats and fundamental principles of ecology such as the keystone species concept, trophic cascades, and the significance of competition and predation in shaping the abundance and distribution of species. The Alaskan coast around Juneau is different from the Louisiana coast in many ways and much of the program emphasizes the differences between them. Differences in temperature, seasonality, substrate, salinity, amplitude and frequency of tides, and other variables lead to very different taxa. For example, echinoderms are much more common in Alaska than along the Louisiana coast, largely due to Louisiana's low salinity. There are also a large variety of marine mammals such as orcas and humpback whales that you would not find in Louisiana. Conversely, Louisiana's coast holds a greater density of salt marshes and species like blue crabs and redfish that may be commonly found in and around the marsh. The Alaska program allows students to immerse themselves in biological principles outside of the classroom that they otherwise would rarely experience.
The program takes place every summer, typically in conjunction with Marine Communities Biology 4262, Marine Communities Lab Biology 4263, and the research credit course Biology 3999. LSU faculty members Bill Stickle, John Caprio and Barry Aronhime have run the program, which has attracted nearly 250 students since it started over 10 years ago. Learn more here.
LSU College of Science: What is your favorite thing you worked on or studied as a biology / marine biology student at LSU?
Sydney: My favorite thing I studied was the zonation and abundance of sea stars in the rocky intertidal of Sunshine Cove in Alaska.
LSU College of Science: What's one fun/interesting/quirky thing about you? What are you hobbies?
Sydney: I'm an avid concert go-er! If a band I listen to is in town, you can bet I will be there. Music is another passion of mine.
LSU College of Science: What's the craziest, strangest or most dangerous thing you've done "for science"?
Sydney: One strange thing I did was in my microbiology lab in my junior year in college. We were given the task of designing our own lab experiment. My partner and I decided we would swab our own toothbrushes to see how many microbes and bacteria were on them. Needless to say, that was a bad idea. I got a new toothbrush the same day we finished reviewing the colonies on our agar plates!
LSU College of Science: What do you love most about marine biology? What excites you most about doing science on a regular basis? What challenges do you face?
Sydney: The element of discovery in science intrigues me overall, not just in marine biology. I strive to make an original discovery in the field of marine biology some day.
My current challenge is building connections and experiences in the field so that I can continue to further my education and training in marine biology.
LSU College of Science: Can you tell us a bit more about your undergraduate research? Can you tell us about a surprising or particularly interesting scientific finding you found?
Sydney: My group's finding were completely opposite of the general consensus from previously published papers on the same subject. We ended up deciding there were a lot of errors in our data. I learned that research involves a lot of time and hard work. Lots of time. Everything must be accounted for, and the slightest error can be a major setback. But that idea does not frighten me - it let's me know that I have to be a meticulous scientist.
LSU College of Science: What advice do you have for high school or first-year students interested in marine biology at LSU?
Sydney: I would suggest to them to become familiar with the marine life and plants of southern Louisiana as soon as possible. Professors will assume students in their marine classes know this, even though I was not originally from Louisiana.
LSU College of Science: Is there anything you wish you'd known sooner or done differently as a first-year student at LSU?
Sydney: Yes - I would have make more connections and been more involved sooner with undergraduate research offerings. There were a couple of classes that were marine related that I should have taken sooner!
LSU College of Science: What are your future plans? Where do you see yourself in five years?
Sydney: I would like to work for NOAA or a marine fisheries organizing doing research. In five years I see myself hopefully working at one of those organizations, with at least my masters degree, but ultimately with my Ph.D.
LSU College of Science: Where can we keep up with you? Are you on social media?
Sydney: I'm on Instagram! @sydney_notaustralia