From NAU to the Audubon Center
For Northern Arizona University alumna Lauren
Marks, winning the Hooper Undergraduate Research Award (HURA) was both a reward for her previous hard
work as an undergraduate and an opportunity to gain valuable experience in her
field prior to graduation.
The award provided Marks, who graduated in 2011 with
a bachelor’s degree in biology, with an opportunity to conduct important research as an
undergraduate, which eventually set her up for a job at the Riparian Institute (a non-profit
education and recreation resource for riparian/river areas) in Gilbert, Arizona,
a position she held until February.
Now Marks turns to the next chapter of her
professional career after taking an opportunity in Washington following successful
stops in Arizona, Louisiana, and New Mexico.
an “evolutionary arms race”
Marks chose to pursue her bachelor’s degree in biology
because she found it fascinating due to its competitive nature and how it
affects the world around her.
“I really love the life sciences evolutionary
arms race, where parasite and host are competing to out-evolve one
another," she said. “I have always been interested in life sciences and
the interdependence of organisms. I have a lot of other interests, but biology
just made sense and I knew I’d end up working with animals at a fairly young
Marks used the HURA funds to study a local
“evolutionary arms race” that particularly interested her. She examined how
amphipods—crustaceans found mostly in marine environments— in Montezuma’s Well, a
natural limestone sinkhole near Rimrock, Arizona, drive
evolution and shape behavior.
Marks first became interested in studying
amphipods while helping a graduate student conduct their research on leeches at
Montezuma’s Well. She noticed the amphipods were a bright orange color, and learned
that they changed color in order to make it easier for ducks to eat them. Marks
quickly became fascinated by this host manipulation and began studying its
effects in other indigenous creatures. After spending a year and a half
absorbed in these in-depth studies, it made sense to apply for the Hooper
“Writing a grant proposal is not something
typically done by undergraduates,” Marks says of the HURA. “The demonstrated
ability to get your own funding is highly desirable by potential research
advisers or employment agencies, but it is also a valuable skill for anyone to
have under their belt.”
She says winning the award and doing further
research helped her grow as a student and prepared her for her future work
immensely. Not only did Marks’ research pay off, but it also helped her
practice her public speaking skills while she presented at conferences,
including the NAU Undergraduate Research Symposium and the Wildlife Society.
early and often
Though her research on amphipods was one of her
earliest passions, Marks also helped many of her worked on a small independent
study in North Carolina in 2010 about the grazing effects of the periwinkle
snail on salt marsh cord grass. The research Marks underwent as an
undergraduate gave her an edge in the professional world, and she urges current
undergraduates to explore research early in their education—even as freshmen or
“It’s never too early to get involved with
research; it’s a really good opportunity," Marks said. “I gained so much
experience with invertebrates, and most of the positions I’m applying for
involve field work.”
Marks said students who engage in research
activity early in their educational careers have more control over their
research—and they gain the ability to work on projects that interest them.
“If you get involved earlier, you can develop
your own project,” Marks said. “Don’t wait until graduate school.”
Marks recently finished working as an avian
field technician in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge surveying songbirds in order to assess riparian
habitat health. Her next adventure begins in Washington as Marks has recently
been offered a position as a logistical coordinator/educator at Salish Sea Expeditions.
Despite the constant relocation, Marks says
taking a variety of occupations at her young age will help her round out her
resume and teach her a variety of lessons applicable to her future goals of
attending graduate school and working in education.
"I love moving from job to job because I am
learning an abundance of skills to apply in different habitats and
environments,” Marks said. “It's really giving me the ‘big picture’ while giving
me a chance to travel and find out what I would like to focus on.”