Andrew Kirk: Lotic Ecosystem Ecology

Andrew Kirk: VCU Center for Environmental Studies
Dr. Daniel McGarvey
Lotic Ecosystem Ecology

What were the primary factors that influenced your decision to participate in Undergraduate Research?

I was introduced to the film Never Cry Wolf (1983) where a researcher, Farley Mowat, is dropped into the Canadian wilderness to monitor how wolves impact the elk in the area. Seeing this film planted the seed for me to return to college, switch my major to Biology, and find something I was passionate about. Pursuing ecology and animal organismal courses further increased my desire to jump into research.

Did you register for academic credit? Participate in a research program? Or Volunteer?

I registered for academic credit following my stint as a volunteer undergraduate field assistant to Dr. McGarvey. He and I talked about setting up an independent study. However, both of us were made aware of the Undergraduate Research & Thesis program that exists within the Biology department headed by Dr. Sarah Golding and I took part in the program.

How did you find your mentor?

While taking Population Ecology in the spring of 2013 I met Matt Rouch, a M.S. student that works in McGarvey’s lab. He mentioned that they needed help collecting fish and macroinvertebrate samples in the mountain streams of West Virginia. I jumped at the chance, met Dr. McGarvey for the first time when he interviewed me for 1 of 2 spots, and I was selected to assist him that summer.

Untitled2For you, what were the benefits of a research experience?

Honestly, the overriding benefit was that it was life changing. Instead of graduating in the fall of 2013 with a vague appreciation of ecology and a job as a shoe salesman (no joke), I am now pursuing my Master’s in Biology here at VCU. Besides that minor detail, I was able to pick the brain of Dr. McGarvey concerning both research and the life of a scientist after receiving a degree. And of course, I learned new skills such as setting up and breaking down study sites, electrofishing, bug sampling, preparation of a scientific manuscript, and identification of insects and fish.

What would you say to a student who is considering Undergraduate Research?

Do it! If you’re at VCU wander around the Life Science Building. Go up and down the stairwells and keep an eye out for fliers looking for undergraduate help. Talk to your professors about their research (you’ll find they’re up to very fascinating work!) and see if you can chip in any way. And most importantly, find a subject that intrigues you because otherwise you’ll just slog through the process.

At what point in your studies did you start your research experience?

I was a late bloomer. I started my research experience the summer between my junior and senior year.

Please also provide a short bio below (include a brief description of your career goals)
Every since I was a kid I loved spending time outside in the woods near the Po River of Spotsylvania, Virginia. In my spare time I hike around the Appalachian Mountains, kayak, run, and volunteer at a local Richmond dog rescue. After obtaining my Master’s, I will either pursue a PhD. or find a job in either a state agency or environmental consulting group before returning for a PhD. No matter which direction I go, I intend to continue researching lotic and mountainous ecosystems.

Please provide links to any news articles, publications etc related to your experience

Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting, 2014

Presentation: Rouch, M.G., McGarvey, D.J., Kirk, A.: Annual Production, assemblage composition and biomass of fish in three southern West Virginia Stream

Poster: Kirk, A.J., McGarvey, D.J., Rouch, M.G.: Benthic macrointertebrate assemblage structure and biomass in pristine streams of southern West Virginia.

Rouch, M.G., McGarvey, D.J., & Kirk, A. 2014. Summer fish assemblage structure and biomass in southern West Virginia streams. (in review).


Blair Cousins-Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries

Where and when did you complete your internship?

 I completed my internship with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in Charles City, Virginia from February to May in the spring of 2013.  I interned at a fresh water mussel hatchery.

 How did you find your internship location?

 I did a Google search.

 What types of activities did you participate in as part of your internship?

 I helped grow and take care of fresh water mussels.  Duties included cleaning housing habitats, building housing habitats, counting young, and feeding mussel species and other related animals.

 What did you gain from your experiences in this internship (academically, professionally, etc.)?

 I learned a lot about the propagation and life cycle of fresh water mussels and also met a lot of professionals in the field.

 Would you recommend internship to other students, why?

 I would highly recommend this internship experience to biology majors, because you gain industry experience and the opportunity to get really cool hands-on experience in the field, something you might not gain from the classroom alone.

 Please also provide a short bio bellow (include a brief description of your career goals)

I graduated from VCU in May 2014 with a degree in biology and minors in chemistry and creative writing.  I am currently working at a local animal shelter and have been added as a permanent volunteer at the VADGIF.  I plan to return to school for my master’s in wild conservation, specializing in mammals and habitat conservation.

Matthew Hurd: Braunschweig – Germany

Matthew Hurd: Braunschweig – Germany

What were the primary factors that influenced your decision to study abroad?

I never thought Id be the kind of person who would study abroad. In fact, I never thought I would leave Richmond. I was becoming competent in the German language by practicing religiously on Skype with Germans I had met through a language exchange website. These Germans were all STEM students (a pharmacist, a mathematician, a chemist and a computer programmer). By learning about their experiences in Germany, I quickly became inspired by how the country has become a world leader in STEM education. I wanted to experience firsthand how the country operated and why it was so successful, so I decided to make an appointment with the study abroad office (GEO).  The rest is history.

What program and destination did you choose?

What manifested from this decision to meet with GEO was something I never expected. I ended up studying abroad in Braunschweig, Germany for ten months.  Technische Universität Braunschweig is an engineering and science university with a focus on practical, applied learning.

What classes did you take while abroad and how would you compare them to taking courses on campus at VCU?

I transferred back second semester Biochemistry, Ecological Biochemistry, and Plant Biochemistry. I also completed a Molecular Genetics laboratory course. The most challenging part was the lab work. German biology students are rather advanced in lab and analytical skills as their education focuses on intensive, hands-on approaches. I had to interact and write my tests and lab reports in German. It was extremely challenging at first because my German lacked the vocabulary to express scientific ideas, but I overcame this with the help of my German peers. As a result, my competency in the language skyrocketed.

Bachelor students in Braunschweig have an intensive curriculum. Their first year consists of biology, biochemistry, organic and inorganic chemistry, plant and animal sciences, genetics and microbiology. This is all with a laboratory experience, too. They only have to do one or two electives for their whole degree! This is quite different from an American Bachelors education in which the focus is more on liberal arts and theory. I was way behind when I started, but I worked hard to gain these skills and competencies in the laboratory.

Additionally, I attended German language courses and lectures in fields such as genetics, geomicrobiology, physics for biologists, and environmental toxicology. I even studied Spanish and Swedish! I was happy to study here. I think the laboratory, analytic and practical education complimented VCUs theoretical approach. When I returned to VCU, I was able to take my new laboratory experience and use it in Dr. Wenheng Zhangs lab. 

What research did you participate in while abroad?

All biology students in Germany are required to do thesis work. In fact, the top German universities require such an experience for the acceptance into a Masters program, so many foreigners (like Americans) may be excluded. Thesis work entails much more than your own project. You are expected to work nine to five every day in the lab for three to five months.  Perhaps the most exciting part of my time in Germany was meeting a post-doc who invited me to do research for five months. Starting in May, I will work full-time in her lab assisting current research studies and undertaking my own research project. Her lab focuses on understanding and mapping specific pathways in the cell that are involved in the inflammatory response. Personally, I will research the cross-talk between Glucocorticoids and Interleukin-6 on the expression of a relatively unknown gene Redd1. Im extremely excited to improve my laboratory and research skills and to work in a collaborative environment. My advisor is a biochemist, more or less. We will be using molecular biology and biochemical approaches to answer our questions. Im thankful that I was able to take all the biochemistry and molecular biology and get the related lab experience for it in Braunschweig.

For you, what were the benefits of studying abroad?

I learned cross-cultural skills and experienced how another country operates, both culturally and academically.  I became even more proficient in German and had the chance to travel around Germany and other countries including Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden.  I experienced first-hand why Germany is an economic and scientific leader of the world. I dont know what is in store for my future, but I know my study abroad and international research experience will help me in graduate school or professional work.  I hope everyone reading this ignores your study abroad anxieties and make an appointment with the GEO office to discuss your possibilities.  You never know what will happen.

What would you say to a student who is considering studying abroad?

For prospective study abroad students, I have advice for you based of my own experiences. My time in Germany wasnt a cakewalk. I did have many set-backs and challenges.

  • Start your research early. Due dates for scholarships and applications are usually way in advance.
  • Work closely with your GEO and biology department advisor. Your GEO advisor will help you find programs and funding opportunities and help you navigate the logistics. Before you go make sure your prospective coursework will transfer back. Understand how your experience will affect your intended graduation date and discuss getting prerequisites done for classes you may take abroad.
  • Find a way to make your experience abroad work FOR you! Although I had a semester left at VCU, I found work in Dr. Zhangs lab. I was able to use my laboratory experience in genetics to assist in her lab. People with international experience stand out academically and professionally as well-rounded and motivated individuals.


Free talk on RVA urban heat island effects

A heat map of the Richmond cityscape shows a stark difference in temperature between buildings and surroundings.

Richmond’s Urban Heat Island Effect

  • Tuesday, August 21
  • 6:30 p.m.
  • Round House in Byrd Park

Speaker: Jeremy S. Hoffman, Ph.D., Science Museum of Virginia

Topic: The Richmond urban heat island one year later: What we know.

Abstract: Last July, the Science Museum of Virginia led a collective of Richmond-area organizations in a citizen science assessment of the city’s urban heat island effect – or the amplification of heat waves in certain areas of the city due to extensive built surfaces and few trees. Results identified a 16°F difference between the warmest and coolest places in the city at the same time. Many of the warmest areas also coincide with higher populations of families in poverty, black communities, low educational attainment individuals, and vacant property. What do we know about how heat affects our health in Richmond? What can be done about this environmental and social issue? I’ll talk about green infrastructure as one of multiple possible solutions.

Richmond Tree Stewards is sponsoring this opportunity. Please bring friends and neighbors who may be interested.

There will be door prizes and refreshment


VAS 2018 Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting

2018 Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting 
Saturday, November 3, 2018  
Ferrum College  
9 am – ~5 pm

Deadline for electronic submission of 2018 Undergraduate Research Grant Applications is October 1, 2018.

The VAS Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting is a research grant proposal competition, which has been held annually since the Fall of 2001.  In order to participate in this meeting, undergraduate students, in conjunction with their faculty mentors, are required to:

(1)   Prepare and submit an Undergraduate Research Grant Application by the October 1 deadline.

(2)   Develop posters outlining the proposed research (following the criteria of the Fall Meeting Poster Guidelines) and present their posters at the Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting on November 3.

NOTE:  Both the Research Grant Applications and the Poster Presentations will be evaluated to determine the recipients of the research grants.

Nine Undergraduate Research Grant Awards of $750 each will be awarded to selected recipients at the end of this meeting.  The grant award recipients will also be awarded student membership in the Virginia Academy of Science for 2019 and will be expected to present the results of their research at the 2019 VAS Annual Meeting in May at Old Dominion University.

Please note that it is the intention of VAS to distribute the Undergraduate Research Grant Awards by institution, discipline, and faculty mentors.

Meeting Participation Procedures

  1. Each grant application must include one or more undergraduate students and one or more faculty mentors.
  • Student applicants must be undergraduates enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges or universities in Virginia.

Student applicants do not need to be members of the Virginia Academy of Science.

o     Faculty mentors must be faculty members affiliated with 2- or 4-year colleges or universities in Virginia.

Faculty mentors must be members in good standing (i.e., paid dues for 2018) of the Virginia Academy of Science by the October 1 grant application submission deadline.  Current VAS membership status can be confirmed by contacting the VAS Associate Executive Officer at

If needed, the VAS Individual Membership Form is available on the VAS website via the link below.

  1. The Undergraduate Research Grant Application should be downloaded from the VAS website and completed by the student applicant(s) in consultation with their faculty mentor(s).

The major component of the application is the Project Description whichmust be limited to no more than 3 single-spaced pages of text (10-12 point font) and must include all components listed below.

o   Project Summary (25-50 words) for inclusion in the Fall Meeting Program and possibly in Virginia Scientists and/or Virginia Journal of Science

o   Clear statement of Purpose or Objectives of research

o   Rationale of proposed approach

o   Clearly stated Research Plan with procedure(s) described in enough detail to allow assessment of research plan

A limited number of graphs, tables, and/or illustrations may be included if essential; these will not count in the 3 page limit.

o   Clear description of the Significance of the research to your specialty

o   Relevant Literature (3 to 5 key references only)

NOTE:  The Undergraduate Research Application for 2018 is now available on the VAS website (via Meetings > Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting > Fall Undergraduate Research Grant Application).

  1. Completed Undergraduate Research Grant Application must be emailed to Gary Isaacs(
  • The completed application (in MS Word docx or doc format) must be attached to a single email message
  • The following information must be included in the email subject line:  Last Name(s) of Student Applicant(s) – VAS UG Research Grant Application

The deadline for student applicants to submit the grant application is Monday, October 1, 2018 (by midnight).

  1. Student applicants must register for and attend the 2018 VAS Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting on Saturday November 3, 2018 at Ferrum College and present posters outlining their proposed research projects(following the criteria of the Fall Meeting Poster Guidelines).

If needed, driving directions to Ferrum College are available on the Ferrum College website via the link below.

  1. Faculty mentors are strongly encouraged to accompany their students to the 2018 VAS Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting on Saturday November 3, 2018 at Ferrum College. 

If needed, driving directions to Ferrum College are available on the Ferrum College website via the link above.

  1.  ALL 2018 Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting attendees(i.e., student applicants, faculty mentors, judges, guests) must register for the meeting ($15 registration fee). 

      NOTE:  Registration information will be available on the VAS website at a later date.

      The deadline for registering for the 2018 VAS Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting is Friday October 12, 2018.