Hilary Thompson never dreamed that a bus ride would be one of the things that led her to Greenland in summer 2014, where she researched methane cycling.
Hilary, who graduated from The Ohio State University in 2012 with a degree in Evolution, Ecology & Organismal Biology, had heard about summer courses at Stone Lab from an academic advisor, but it wasn’t until she spotted an ad on the Campus Area Bus Service that it really piqued her interest.
“I started looking at the classes and read about the Research Experience for Undergraduates program,” says Hilary, who is from Strongville, Ohio. “I loved doing field work and stuff, so I figured I might as well apply for this and see if I get it.”
Though she applied for a limnology position, studying water quality, she landed a spot in ichthyology instead and was soon on her way to Gibraltar in summer 2011.
The experience turned out to be transformative for Hilary, who worked with two other REU students studying various aspects of the lives of invasive round gobies under Dr. Tom Simon of Indiana University. Hilary studied the gobies’ diets, while the other two studied their sizes and ages.
Dr. Simon gave the students their starting points and challenged them to come up with their proposals and tasked them with the research.
“He was great at being there just for guidance if we needed it,” Hilary says. “He said, ‘Go learn, go try things out on your own and see what you come up with.’”
She and the other students had to try different methods for catching the gobies. After the fish were caught, Hilary spent much of her time as an REU in the lab, dissecting round goby stomachs and identifying the contents – the macroinvertebrates that the gobies eat. Once the field and lab work was complete, she used statistical methods to analyze her data, comparing the diet of each fish to the habitat in which it was caught.
“The REU experience was really amazing. You get that feeling of what it would be like to be doing this as your lifetime goal. For me, it really made me realize this is where it’s at. This is what I want to do,” Hilary says.
Before her experience at Stone Lab, Hilary had never considered going on to graduate school. But after participating in in-the-field research and talking with others working and teaching at the lab, she knew that was the path she wanted to take.
When classes started again at Ohio State that fall, Hilary sought out a position working at an undergraduate laboratory under Dr. Bill Mitsch and continued working with Dr. Simon, writing and publishing a paper based on her REU project.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, she connected with Dr. Jeff White from Indiana University Bloomington and is now working toward a master’s degree. She’s studying biogeochemistry – the biological and chemical cycles within systems and how those relate to geological features. Research for her thesis took place in Greenland, where she examined methane cycling in lake systems.
Hilary says her time at Stone Lab changed everything for her.
“I owe the lab so much for where I am today,” she says. “I never would have chosen this course for my life if it hadn’t been for the lab. It was an amazing experience.”