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WCSU biology student's dedication to research earns Yale-Peabody internship
Kaitlin Bookless '12

Western biology major Kaitlin Bookless has shown an enthusiastic dedication to building her research skills in her field that has impressed her faculty mentors and enriched the classroom experience of her peers. That dedication has been rewarded with her recent selection as an intern in the Yale-Peabody Museum of Natural History invertebrate zoology division.

It has been a remarkable academic journey for Bookless, who arrived at WCSU as an 18-year-old transfer student unfamiliar with Western’s biology program and unaccustomed to the modern lab facilities available in the Science Building. Unlike her first college, she discovered it was expected at Western that research would play an integral role in her scientific education. Even after gaining a solid foundation in biology, she admitted that she entered her group senior research class last fall with some trepidation.

“I had not taken an invertebrate zoology class before, so my first experience with invertebrates came in my senior research class,” Bookless said. The focus of her group’s research project was the comparative study of organisms living on the external surface of healthy and hospitalized loggerhead sea turtles. She gained new awareness from the class’s study of turtles injured by causes ranging from boating and fishery to oil spills that “human activities are causing loggerhead populations to decline, and many ecosystems are being altered, which is causing a loss of biodiversity.”      

Associate Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences Dr. Theodora Pinou recalled how Bookless demonstrated a special gift for research and analysis in laboratory and classroom work.

“Kaity worked with other students to document and quantify the biodiversity or organisms attached to the body of sea turtles,” Pinou observed. In learning to identify different species, Bookless quickly mastered lab techniques for measurement and statistical analysis as tools to address questions regarding sea turtle conservation and behavior as well as the biodiversity of the marine environment.

“She was keen to gather as much data as possible, and was detailed in doing so. She demonstrated commitment to the project by volunteering to work in the lab beyond what was expected of her, and to help other students complete their data collection,” Pinou said.

“I have had some very insightful conversations with her about the appropriateness of applying various statistical tests to the data,” she added.” It was most interesting to me as a faculty member to see how reflective and thoughtful she was as she navigated her research.”

Bookless also made a positive impression on Eric Lazo-Wasem, senior collections manager of invertebrate zoology at Yale-Peabody and director of the museum’s internship program. Lazo-Wasem, with whom Pinou has collaborated in research projects, was a frequent visitor to the senior research class and was impressed by Bookless’ dedication to her work. Pinou noted the Yale-Peabody internship will afford an opportunity to become familiar with a wide range of tasks ranging from storage and documentation of artifacts and taxonomy to fossil curation and the art of museum exhibition development.  Bookless cited the opportunity to work with a diversity of invertebrates and benefit from Lazo-Wasem’s wide experience in the field has been a major benefit.

“At the internship, I am learning that evolution can be tracked through the museum records, and I have been able to catalog specimens from Antarctica, Fiji, Africa, Indonesia, Florida and many other locations that show the world’s biodiversity,” Bookless remarked. “I have attended seminars at Yale that have exposed me to research by scientists all over the world, in many different fields from vaccine evolution and conservation biology to the evolution and genetics of the stickleback fish.”

“As an intern, she will learn about the career opportunities that biology majors may pursue at museums,” Pinou remarked. “Most important will be her interaction with visitors from around the globe, and opportunities to attend seminars and lectures as well as to take advantage of the library and other collection resources at Yale University. I hope it will open the door to a whole new world that she would never have known about without this opportunity!”

Bookless credited the opportunities she has discovered for building her research skills to WCSU faculty mentors in the biological and environmental studies department including Pinou and Professors Dr. Thomas Philbrick and Dr. Frank Dye. She has not yet decided what path to pursue in her professional career, but expressed excitement at the opportunities that have unfolded during her Western experience. Recalling that she overcame a few challenging semesters to reach her present accomplishments, she advised her fellow students to persevere in their studies.

“I was able to pick myself up and turn the bad semesters around,” she said. “One of the most important things I can share with other students is to pick yourself up after you fall down.”

Above photo: (left to right) Kaitlin with Lourdes Rojas, assistant in Invertebrate Zoology, Yale-Peabody Museum 

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