Molly and Ann collecting samples in Mongolia

What a difference a year makes, or so Molly Fisher found when she decided to return to Kansas and continue her 2018 Kansas State University (KSU) Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) collaboration with her 2018 mentor Dr. Walter Dodds, University Distinguished Professor of Biology at KSU and Co-Pi for the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS). Last year, Molly worked with the drought-induced pools of Kings Creek, but this year Molly said that even though “the topic of study was a continuation of research from last year. The difference was that this year King’s Creek had flow” and provided a “slightly more ‘normal year’ for comparison to our results from last year’s drought samples.” Since last summer, Molly has worked remotely analyzing data from her 2018 research while completing her junior year at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa.

When asked about this past summer’s REU experience, Molly said, “My 2019 summer REU had two parts to it. The first part involved working as a lab technician in Mongolia and the second part allowed me to continue my own research in the United States.” Her unique 2019 MAPS research experience actually started in January when Dr. Dodds invited her back to KSU to work in his lab. In the lab, Molly continued her own research from last summer and also served as a lab technician for Anne Schechner, a Ph.D. candidate from the Dodds Lab. Molly first explained her lab technician experience and then her 2019 Summer REU research as follows: “Anne is part of the MACRO Macroecological Riverine Project. As part of this team of researchers, Anne focuses on the system metabolism of temperate steppe rivers. She has research sites, both in Mongolia and the United States. I was contracted as her lab technician alongside another student, Sammi Grieger, a graduate student at Washington State University in Vancouver. On June 3, 2019, graduate students, principal investigators, and lab technicians from Ball State University, Kansas State University, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, and the University of Kansas traveled to Mongolia for the 2019 research expedition. Once in Mongolia, we met up with graduate students, lab technicians, and principal investigators from the National University of Mongolia. Anne, Sammi, and I were the metabolism crew and used probes to measure light, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and discharge. We also used an acoustic doppler velocimeter to measure barometric pressure and discharge. We spent over 20 days in the field camping the entire time. Overall, we collected data from 18 different sites in eastern Mongolia before returning to the United States on July 2, 2019. During the rest of July, I was at KSU completing my own research measuring stream N cycling using 15NH4+ in recirculating chambers to examine benthic N dynamics again looking specifically at remineralization, N uptake, and nitrification.” Using her research samples collected during the 2018 summer, Molly created a poster “that James Guinnip, another Ph.D. candidate in the Dodds lab, generously presented in her absence at the 2019 Society for Freshwater Science annual meeting this past May.”

Molly’s poster displaying her research

As for her favorite part of the 2019 MAPS REU program, Molly said, “My favorite experience was by far Mongolia. I love fieldwork, the outdoors, and traveling. Having the opportunity to do all three was an opportunity I will be forever grateful to have had.” And as she reflected on her unique 2019 summer experience, she added, “Over the summer, I learned how fortunate I am to have a plethora of family, friends, and professors who are so supportive, encouraging, and proud of me. I wouldn’t be where I am at today without them. I also learned that Mongolian sugar wafers are quite delightful.”

The Nashua, Iowa native returned to Simpson College this fall to complete her senior year and a degree in environmental science with a minor in history. Molly has also continued her campus involvement activities serving as the Senior Class President and a Carver Bridge Scholar as well as being an active member of the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society, the Beta Beta Beta Honor Society, and the Sustainability Club. Over these next few months, Molly shared, “I will be applying to graduate schools (mainly in the marine biology realm) to further my education and continue to foster my love for science. I’m not exactly sure where I will end up, but I am thoroughly stoked to see what my future holds.”

She recently published this blog with James Guinnip:

Hung out to dry: conducting ecological research in grassland streams during a historic drought

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the KSU REU program is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The grant’s workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce and prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.