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.
For 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).