Dahlia Martinez ’17 is an HNU senior majoring in biological science. This past summer, she earned the opportunity to work as an intern, through the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The garden is internationally renowned—it is one of the oldest botanical institutions in the U.S. and is a center for botanical research and education. Martinez kindly agreed to answer some questions about her experience.
How did you find out about the REU at Missouri Botanical Garden?
There is a website that lists numerous careers centered on botany and through this site you can find links to applications for all the listed programs. This site, and specifically the REU program at Missouri Botanical Garden, was discovered by a former professor at Holy Names University [Vanessa Handley, PhD, former associate professor of biological science]. At the time of my introduction to this program I was taking a course under her instruction. The opportunity was presented to the whole class and to anyone else who was interested.
Did you have to go through an application process?
There was an application process that I had to go through in order to become a part of the program. Like many other internships the application had several requirements which included submitting a resume/CV, cover letter, reference letters, and transcripts. All the applications went through a review period where the directors of the program decided which students would be invited to participate.
What was your day-to-day experience like at the garden? What did you learn there that you really value?
Every day was set up a little differently depending on the project carried out by each intern. Our main goal during the 10 weeks of the program was to set up and conduct an experiment under the direction of a mentor. My days consisted of being inside the herbarium at the Monsanto Center, located outside the Missouri Botanical Garden. While I was there I handled records of dried plants that had been collected over the years. I focused on one particular genus of flower, Silphium, a relative of the sunflower family, and measured certain traits that I could compare throughout the different species. The majority of my work was done independently so I really practiced being efficient with my time. During this period the motto “Hard work pays off” was reinforced and I really value that.
How much training did you receive during your time there?
During my time at the Missouri Botanical Garden the directors held seminars and meetings twice a week to better inform the interns what duties should be upheld as a researcher. Other than that, I read plenty of articles, books, and other informational texts in order to help me fully understand the elements of my project.
What part of it did you enjoy the most?
I enjoyed the experience as a whole. There isn’t one aspect that I can stay stood out because overall the program was well developed and helped me grow not only as a student but as a professional and a woman in science.
Is that type of work something that you want to pursue in the future?
I would like to pursue something in the realm of science. Although I am not quite sure if botany is the field for me, I wouldn’t mind diving deeper into this area and further expanding my knowledge. Botany is more practical than people imagine. A lot of the work lies around agriculture, climate changes, population shifts, and other environmental circumstances. The way I look at the term “botany” is like an umbrella word, similar to the way “doctor” is. There are many different types of botanist and that’s what makes this field special. Although there is always a broad goal in mind, like perhaps saving the universe, there are specializations that allow you to focus on certain aspects of how to get the job done.