FER Student Spotlight: Holly Keepers

Holly Keepers is currently a junior studying Conservation Biology, with a minor in Applied Ecology. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Holly first came to NC-State as a Zoology major, but later changed into the CNR department as she realized her career goals better aligned with the Conservation Biology program. She hopes to eventually work for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service studying mammals.

Through the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, Holly interned at the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Biosciences in Marineland, Florida. She created her own research project studying behavioral changes Thinstriped Hermit Crabs have in the presence of excess noise pollution. Holly will be presenting her research at the Ecological Society of America’s annual conference later this year.

How did you come up with the idea for your independent research project?

Honestly, it took a long time narrowing down a subject I was interested in while also finding a research topic feasible to be completed in a summer internship. It took almost 2-3 weeks at the internship to finally decide what research I wanted to pursue. I luckily had a great faculty mentor who I was able to bounce ideas off of, and I eventually was able to narrow down my topic. The idea to study Thinstriped Hermit Crabs behavior was actually not my first choice, but I am so happy I ended up researching that topic! It was an extremely rewarding experience and I definitely branched out from my normal interests.

What were the outcomes of your research project?

I can confidently say that this summer research project definitely helped me grow as both a student and researcher. I learned so much this summer that I wouldn’t have been able to learn anywhere else besides in the field. I was able to solidify my career goals, and use this experience as a stepping stone to launch into other amazing projects.

How did you end up at the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience?

The Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program does an amazing job placing students with researchers to work under. In the first summer of the program, the program leaders decide your research placement for you. This was ideal, because I likened my experiences to a newborn fawn; I had a vague, general idea of where I would like to go in my career but had no hands on research experience. The Doris Duke program placed me in the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Biosciences and I had the opportunity to work under multiple researchers helping on their projects, which was amazing hands on experience. My mentors at the lab did an amazing job at giving support whenever I needed it, while also giving me an extraordinary amount of freedom in designing my own experiment and problem solving issues on my own. I think being able to have the Doris Duke Program place you in your first summer is vital in growing as a researcher. If I didn’t get placed in the Whitney Lab, I would have no idea what I should look for in a future conservation job; I didn’t even know my own likes and dislikes when it came to research! What you think you might be interested in pursuing could be completely different from the reality of working in the field.

How had the Doris Duke Conservation Scholarship helped you gain more field experience?

This summer I was able to work in the field on a multitude of projects, for days at a time. Unlike classes, labs, or volunteer work, this internship was a full time position where I worked outdoors 5-6 days a week. Field work as a full time job is strenuous, and being in the Florida heat for long hours at a time is something no class could have prepared me for. Experience is necessary in furthering in any career, and the more field experiences one has, the better. Additionally, I was lucky that I was able to work in ecosystems not found in Raleigh (salt water marshes), so I was able to diversify my resume and work experiences!

What was the application process like for the Doris Duke Conservation?

The Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program is open to all NC-State students with an interest in conservation and the natural world; freshman and sophomores across all majors are welcome to apply! The application process in of itself was simple and similar to most other scholarship program applications. You had to complete their online application, send transcripts, and get two letters of recommendation.

For more information, definitely check out their website! https://programs.ifas.ufl.edu/doris-duke-conservation-scholars/

What advice do you have for students determining outcomes and ideas for research projects?

If you are interested in starting your own research project, my recommendation would be to brainstorm a lot of different ideas instead of falling in love with one project. Meeting up with a professor who you feel might be able to lead you in the right direction helps a lot. I must have come up with 100 different projects that in the end didn’t work out. Having a professional advise you on what ideas are and aren’t feasible will save you a lot of stress and time. That being said, don’t be scared to dream big! Worst case scenario is they say no, so put yourself out there!