Christopher Garcia

Food web interactions in the salt marshes of southern Louisiana
Student, Biology

Tell us a little about yourself and your research project.

My name is Christopher Garcia, I’m a senior graduating in January and my research project for this summer was done with Dr. Lopez Duarte on food web interactions in southern Louisiana particularly on top predator diets within the salt marshes. This environment is referred to as a transition zone, meaning both terrestrial and aquatic animals occupy similar feeding niches causing a lot of competition. We input data into a mixing model to identify the proportion of prey items that make up the overall diet of the Red Drum.

How did you first find out about undergraduate research opportunities at UNC Charlotte?

I was first introduced to undergrad research opportunities from my academic advisor, Mrs. Bates. She told me to look into what the research professors were working on and suggested I reach out to some professors about volunteering in their labs for projects that I found interesting.

How has your research experience prepared you for your next goals or career?

I think that they have given me a skillset applicable for problem-solving and collaborating to develop a well-organized methodology to use in industry as well as academia. I learned how to communicate like a scientist as well as tailoring my research to fit specific audiences based on their understanding of the information. Being able to convey your findings is just as important as being able to extrapolate them.

What advice would you give students who are interested in pursuing undergraduate research and what would you say to a student who says, "research is not for me"?

I would say find a research lab that you find interesting and a mentor who is going to help you succeed at the next level no matter what that next level is, because everything you do in the lab may not be relevant to what you want to do career-wise, but will help develop you into a more rounded learner that can adapt to any obstacle. For the student who says research is not for me, I would say how do you know unless you try. The research lab is night and day compared to labs you do alongside courses. There is more freedom and room for creativity; the project you are working on is yours and you can make it as personable as you want, ask any question, run any statistical test, etc.

What is one thing that you learned about yourself from this research experience?

I learned that I may not have all the answers at the moment and things may not go as planned when doing research. But as you work on your research, your ideas from trial and error and different perspectives from your peers and mentors begin to shape the project into what it is. Also, I learned how to do some light coding to run statistical tests, which is something I never thought I would.