Bridget Vincent '19, BHC Scholar, biology alumna, and current Ph.D. student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, recently received the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. This award recognizes students in the STEM field who are pursuing graduate degrees and plan to complete work in research. While at UCF, Bridget was heavily involved in research, studying topics such as the impact of anthropogenic barriers on gopher tortoise movement, pit viper venom phylogenetics, and the genetics of two fish species in the Indian River Lagoon. Her long-term goal is to enter into the industry and explore other options for research.

Why were you interested in studying marine biology?

My art led me to my passions in science. I would always paint sea creatures and learn about the animals I painted—sometimes anatomy, physiology, ecology, or chemistry. After I thought about a few other options, I pursued a bachelor's in general biology—I hadn't settled on marine biology yet. While at UCF I joined a herpetology lab and explored different biological questions, but always came back to asking similar questions about aquatic animals for a few reasons. I've always found them interesting, so I naturally gravitate towards them. There's so little known about so many marine animals that they spark [my] curiosity – cephalopods in particular.

How did you achieve the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship?

My undergraduate research experiences were huge in helping me get the GRFP. They gave me the experience to write in my list of activities, but more importantly, they made me realize what kind of science I wanted to pursue. This in turn led to a better, more focused research proposal. The jobs I had during undergrad also helped. They were either relevant to my field, marine biology, or they were relevant to mentorship or research, such as my position as the student assistant in the Office of Undergraduate Research. Since I was working there and in AAP’s RAMP program, I also had a lot of help in writing my statements. I was not awarded the GRFP until my first year in graduate school, but my first application submitted during my time at UCF served as a first draft for the next round.

What is your long-term goal and how will this help you get there?

I don’t have a plan set in stone but after my Ph.D. I plan to go into industry—wherever that takes me. Being awarded the GRFP means I have the time and means to explore different options, especially with their internship program (GRIP). Their other program, GROW, also provides an opportunity to do international research, which would be a huge help with my research.

What did your research at UCF cover? Do you plan to continue research at UC Santa Barbara, and if so, what do you plan to focus on?

While I was at UCF I worked on a few different projects. I started as a research assistant studying how anthropogenic barriers (roads and railways) impede gopher tortoise movement, then studied pit viper venom phylogenetics, and had an independent project on the population genetics of two fish species in the Indian River Lagoon. My Ph.D. work is totally different. I'm now studying the convergent evolution of complex traits, specifically in cephalopod photophores (light-producing organs on certain kinds of sea-dwelling mollusks). Though this is different than what I studied at UCF, my projects as an undergrad still played a huge role in helping me figure out what I wanted to focus on in grad school and what kind of lab group I wanted to be a part of. The gopher tortoise project made me realize how much I wanted to pursue research, and the pit viper project showed me how much I like thinking about evolutionary questions, and how interesting bioinformatics is. When I moved to a second lab to study population genetics, I could see which parts of each lab I wanted in my ideal research group.

What advice do you have for others interested in receiving the NSF fellowship?

If you know where you might apply and who a potential PI (principal investigator) might be, try to work with them when writing your application. I did this with the PI whose lab I ended up joining, and even though I didn’t get the GRFP the first time around, the proposal gave us a starting point for my project when I arrived.

What is your favorite hobby?

My top hobby is definitely drawing and painting. It was one of the things that made me realize how much I loved biology, since I painted so many sea creatures. Now it also helps me communicate science and understand current projects.