Ecology Research Center
at Miami University
Elizabeth Duskey (Class of 2014)
- senior zoology and mathematics double major
- commutes to Miami from her hometown in Camden, OH
- working on limnological study of inland waters at the Ecology Research Center
- plans to pursue a doctorate and develop her own research
I take a lot of history and anthropology courses—I've heard some people grumble about the Miami Plan, but I think it's a really fun diving board that allows you to discover interesting subjects. From all the different classes I've taken I discovered that research is definitely my thing ... it synthesizes the things I've learned in various classes.
"I transferred to Miami after spending my first year in Purdue University's engineering program, but I decided to come back to my hometown in Camden (just 20 minutes from Oxford) and study math here, partially because of how close Miami is to home and also because my mom, sister, and brother are Miami alums.
"My first year at Miami was busy, as I was commuting from home, but it was also really relaxing. As a kid I'd been to Oxford many, many times, so I found Miami very familiar and comfortable. I got to know people from my classes and the Commuter Center in Shriver, which brings the commuter students together in one space so we can discuss our challenges—time lost moving back and forth, living at home, carpooling, and so on.
"I started here as a mathematics major and added zoology some time later. The more I took math classes, the deeper I got involved, to the point where math actually became something of a worldview for me. I decided that zoology would be a great way to apply it."
Best Miami Experiences
"I like spending a lot of my free time in the woods, and Miami feels very contiguous with the natural environment. I really don't like the jolting hustle and bustle of a city; I prefer the natural areas around Oxford as well as the Ecology Research Center (ERC), where you can just walk around and do research. It's also great to be able to walk off campus into the woods with my dogs, hike some trails, and do some contemplating!
"I'm part of a research project in the ERC, where we're doing a limnology study of inland waters—fresh lakes and streams and so on. It began when I took a limnology class a couple years ago with Maria Gonzales, and she asked me if I wanted to do some research in her lab. We do hands-on field ecological research, especially in the summer for field projects, and it really opened my eyes to how interesting it is. We even got to present our data at the Midwest Evolution and Ecology Conference at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, which was really cool.
"I take a lot of history and anthropology courses—I've heard some people grumble about the Miami Plan, but I think it's a really fun diving board that allows you to discover interesting subjects. From all the different classes I've taken I discovered that research is definitely my thing—I'm planning to go to graduate school to get a doctorate. Research is directly applicable to my goals, as it synthesizes the things I've learned in various classes, especially at the senior level. In a math modeling course, for example, we've studied heart weight based on ventricle measurement, using differential equations and proportional geometry. This is the type of information synthesis that is really critical to my goals in research."
Miami and the Liberal Arts
"At Miami I've learned that everything has a social context. If I had just taken math and science, I'd be missing out, as there's a lot more to research than just getting the nitty-gritty. My history and anthropology classes have been especially applicable, allowing me the ability to integrate that knowledge into any future projects that I do. Liberal arts allows you to be pre-grounded before you leave the university, since you won't be hit in the face with all of this so-called 'real-world stuff.' Although nothing can ever fully prepare you, a liberal arts education helps a lot."
Classroom Research Experiences
"Nearly all my favorite courses at Miami have involved research in some way, even ones outside of math and the natural sciences. One was an international studies class that was cross-listed with anthropology. We actually ended up doing a semester-long research project involving a Japanese fishery. It was really fun because it felt like, if we really worked on it, we could actually take our research out into the real world.
"I've also enjoyed courses on ichthyology, which is the study of fish, and math modeling. It's fun to spend the whole time working on problems that apply to real-world situations. For one research project, we looked at a bridge and made recommendations on improvement. It often feels like a biological scientist has given us some data and says, 'Hey, can you help me make a model for this?' In these classes there's only a thin line between our coursework and actually using math and science to work with real clients. And being both a math and biology major, I get to see both sides of that."
Advice to Students
"Take advantage of your requirements. I know that sometimes when you're told to do something, you don't really want to, but use the Miami Plan to find something that interests you. We're all eager to graduate, but at the same time, I think it's really important to explore. Treat your undergraduate experience as a chance to be exploratory, because you might change your mind about what you want to do and it's really easy in the College of Arts and Science to switch majors.
"Definitely talk to your professor if you're interested in research. I didn't really know the research opportunities until I was asked if I would like take part in a research team. A lot of people don't know about these opportunities, but if you're interested in something, just ask a professor! Even if they don't have openings in their lab, they'd be more than happy to find you a space in another. Just as you'll find out what you like in research, more importantly you'll find out what you don't like. Some things will simply clash with the way your brain works, but that's always really valuable information."