Researchers can do much to enrich academic discourse and the disciplines which they study. Former Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) program fellow Caitlin Looby is about to commence her doctoral studies, having already made valuable contributions to the field of tropical ecology. After completing her undergraduate studies, Caitlin worked with Kean University’s Dr. William Eaton to characterize and compare soil habitats in the temperate and tropical rainforests of both Washington State and the Northern Zone of Costa Rica. Her research findings were recently accepted for publication in Tropical Ecology (2012). As an REU fellow, Caitlin gained a strong understanding of the connections between microbiology and ecology.
Caitlin Looby began her academic career at the University of Conneticut where she chose to pursue a rigorous course of study in Molecular and Cellular Biology. While at UConn, Looby decided to study abroad in Costa Rica during the summer of 2008. “Prior to this experience, I had never delved into ecology or tropical studies, and my only exposure to science had been within a laboratory setting. The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) program on Tropical Ecology and Conservation in Costa Rica immediately piqued my interest,” said Looby. She wanted to step outside of her comfort zone and have an immersive experience with both a different culture and a new aspect of biology. Having only been exposed to science in a laboratory setting Looby relished her field-work experience, which also probed how environmental changes are impacting people in the tropics.
Caitlin’s experience in Costa Rica led her to contact Kean University’s Dr. William Eaton. This marked the beginning of her journey in microbial ecology through the REU program. Looby studied tropical and temperate soil patches, investigating whether the anti-fugal properties exhibited by a local flowering plant were also evident in the soil of that region. The results of this study were accepted for publication in Tropical Ecology (2012). For her Master’s thesis, she delved deeper into the effects of this bromeliad on ecosystem function.
Caitlin has also enjoyed taking a mentorship role in a laboratory setting as a teaching assistant. Looby recently completed her Masters and will begin doctoral studies in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department of the University of California-Irvine in Fall 2012.