Central Michigan University junior and biology major and museum studies minor Allison Snider of Novi was recently awarded a summer internship position at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., through the Natural History Research Experiences program.
“Smithsonian internships are among the most competitive opportunities that exist worldwide,” Jay Martin, director of the museum studies program and the CMU Museum of Cultural and Natural History, said. “Allison has already made significant investments in her career over the last couple of years through demonstrated academic excellence, application of theory in the field and a strong commitment to pursue opportunities that build her skills. Being awarded this internship shows that her efforts have paid off.”
NHRE internships run for ten weeks. Fewer than twenty undergraduates from around the world are selected annually to work with museum scientists to complete an independent research project in anthropology, botany, entomology, invertebrate zoology, mineral science, paleobiology or vertebrate zoology. Students receive a $5,500 stipend and free housing accommodations in dormitories at George Washington University.
Under the guidance of biologists Nancy Knowlton and Matthieu Leray in the Department of Invertebrate Zoology at NMNH, Snider will examine the diversity, size distribution and community composition of Trapezia crabs collected by Smithsonian researchers from branching corals at the Southern Line Islands, one of the most remote, uninhabited island archipelagos in the world. Specifically, she will conduct body size measurements and analyze DNA barcodes obtained from each crab specimen in order to determine how coral crab communities differ in these pristine islands impacted by few or no anthropogenic stressors.
Seizing the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research at CMU — an option not available to undergraduates at most other universities — Snider already knows how to analyze DNA from her work with Antarctic specimens in assistant professor of biology Andrew Mahon’s lab.
“I think my experience doing research in professor Mahon’s lab has been incredibly important in helping me prepare for this internship experience,” Snider said. “He was one of my biggest advocates during the internship application process, and working in his lab has taught me countless skills and ways to approach tasks that are definitely going to help me out in the NMNH lab this summer.”
Most coral reefs seen today have already been highly impacted by human activities and are in a degraded state of low coral cover and fish density. The few pristine coral reef ecosystems that remain, such as the ones located in the Line Islands of the central Pacific Ocean, represent ideal systems for understanding how humans have altered ecosystem processes and biodiversity.
“Trapezia crabs in particular are known to be coral mutualists,” Mahon said. “They have a symbiotic relationship with the host coral that they live on by cleaning sediments off the coral tissue that in turn helps keep the coral alive during runoffs caused by modern agricultural practices.”
The crabs also guard the coral from invaders and fend off predators. Given their key functional role, their diversity and community composition have been well studied throughout their distribution range except on the few remaining pristine coral reefs.
“I hope to come away from this experience having learned as much as I can,” Snider said. “To have the opportunity to work with world-class scientists at a premier institution such as the Smithsonian, with a diverse group of peers, I can only begin to imagine all of the different things I will learn from each and every part of this internship.”
Central Michigan University is one of 172 academic institutions nationwide and four in Michigan to offer a museum studies program and provide interdisciplinary preparation to students in an effort to meet the needs of the 35,144 museums in the United States.
Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution is the world's largest museum and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park, and nine research facilities. Opened in 1910, its National Museum of Natural History offers a collection of over 126 million objects and serves as one of the world’s great repositories of scientific and cultural American heritage.
With access to a world-class research staff and unparalleled scientific research collections, NHRE summer internships are highly competitive and extremely prestigious.