A&S undergrad lands opportunity for hands-on research experience

Biology major works with UC professor to study water quality impact on fish

By Jenn Cammel

For students at the University Cincinnati, there's no shortage of ways to get involved with majors and classes in the College of Arts and Sciences. While students can spend much of their first few years searching for enriching opportunities to help them explore their passions and help them prepare for a career after college, biology major Ariana Berrios didn’t have search long.

Berrios, a third-year transfer student, found experience as an undergraduate lab researcher the day after she moved into her UC dorm last semester. The opportunity led Berrios to work in the lab of assistant professor Latonya Jackson, a researcher studying water quality downstream of water treatment plants.

A&S Biology undergraduate student and research assistant Ariana Berrios

A&S Biology undergraduate student and research assistant Ariana Berrios

“I found out about Dr. Jackson's lab through online searching,” Berrios said. “The day after I had moved into my dorm here at UC, I was meeting Dr. Jackson for the first time. Since then, she has become not only my lab professor, but a mentor guiding me into the science world. I couldn't be more grateful to her for the opportunities she has given to me. "

Most recently, Jackson's study of the effects of human hormones on reproduction in wild fish populations located near sewage treatment plants was published in the journal Aquatic Toxicology. The study found that fish populations – specifically least killifish – exposed to higher levels of estrogen produced fewer offspring, and fewer male fish in total.

During her first week, Berrios was trained in lab procedure and protocol to care for the fish in the lab. After becoming familiar with the research, Berrios was given a list of duties.

“These duties included feeding the fish (alternating daily between flakes and brine shrimp), cleaning tanks, cleaning beakers and other utensils and filling out charts daily to check water parameters and keep track of populations,” Berrios said. 

The research also led Berrios to an experimental streamwater facility to conduct research on least killifish, one of the smallest fish in the world.  Berrios was given the opportunity to conduct her own experiments where she exposed least killifish to differing concentrations of estrogen and testosterone.

She presented part of her research, which includes a five-day behavioral experiment, at the Society of Environmental Toxicity and Chemistry’s virtual conference. Berrios is still conducting the second portion of the experiment and hopes to have it published.

Reach out to professors. If they don't respond, send a follow-up email. Don't be disheartened by one denial. ... Keep looking because there is an abundance of opportunities out there.

Ariana Berrios, UC biology student

Because of COVID-19, the lab team keeps its distance from one another, wears masks, wipes down all surfaces often, and has switched biweekly meetings to Zoom calls. Despite all of this change, Berrios still believes she got the full lab experience.

“I feel that the pandemic has changed how we all go about our day-to-day activities, however Dr. Jackson was great at making sure it did not take away from the learning experience that her lab team could get while working with her,” Berrios said.

Berrios will continue her research with Jackson Spring semester. She advises other students looking for professional experience to keep trying even if the search is hard.

 “Reach out to professors, email them. If they don't respond, send a follow-up email a few days later,” Berrios said. “Don't be disheartened by one denial email, keep looking because there is an abundance of opportunities out there.”

Featured image at top: A researcher in a lab. Credit: Michal Jarmoluk for Pixabay.

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