|Laura J May-Collado, Ph.D.||
I found Soundscapes & Behavioral Research and the CURE lab on a whim while registering for classes after a gap semester. Luckily through the CURE lab, I was able to participate in the analysis of data collected by Dr. Laura May-Collado and her collaborators. As someone who has primarily had experience in field work, I was excited to learn how data collected in the field was then analyzed. My research used recordings from autonomous underwater recorders located in Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico, to study the geographical variation and range of Pantropical Spotted Dolphin’s whistles. Using RAVEN, a software used for sound analysis, I identified and selected whistles with high signal-to-noise ratios. CURE has allowed me to independently work on data analysis while simultaneously working with Dr. May-Collado to interpret the results. Before this course I did not know what type of work was required to examine marine sound recordings. I had the opportunity to help deploy a hydrophone during my semester away and I now know what type of analysis occurs after sound files are retrieved from sound recording devices. Having the opportunity to work on a real research project has allowed me to understand more thoroughly what goes into data interpretation. The work was challenging but extremely rewarding. Throughout the process Dr. May-Collado was there to guide us especially during the transition of classes going online. This course has been one of my favorites during my undergraduate experience and provides experience and opportunity like no other class. If you have any interest in marine research, data analysis or wonder what working on a real research project is like, I highly recommend this class! I would like to thank Laura May-Collado for all of her help and guidance as well as giving me this opportunity in CURE. I am grateful to have had this experience and have learned so much throughout the process. I look forward to continuing my research into my last semester at UVM!
Sometimes, it can be difficult to find the right undergraduate research program to fit your schedule and interests. I was curious about the course and I jumped into it with no previous research experience. I found out that this class was exactly what I needed to get started. By analyzing underwater recordings, I looked at the impact of boating on the toadfish population in Panama. I learned how to use RAVEN to create spectrograms of the recordings. This was extremely helpful for interpreting and quantifying the toadfish calls and the boat noises. The process was very beneficial, and I was able to develop many new skills.
The small classroom setting was engaging, and it was different from all my other classes. Throughout the semester, there was constant reassurance on the progress of my project. We moved to remote learning in the middle of March, but it did not deter the progression of the work. I was even able to download RAVEN on my computer at home and that was a lifesaver! It felt incredible to put everything together after doing a semester of work. I found that the more I worked on this project, the more attached I became to it. It was very satisfying when everything came together in the end. I found a new interest in marine biology, and I am eager to find more research opportunities.
The CURE lab has allowed me to learn and experience things unlike most other courses. It serves as a hands-on learning experience in analyzing field data that is a crucial experience for anyone interested in studying biology. In my opinion, it is very important to try such things to figure out what you are interested in and if you find research interesting or enjoyable. Researching for this lab has easily been my favorite credit hours spent this semester. For my research, I analyzed the behaviors of Humpback Whales in Guerrero, Mexico. This analyzing was done by viewing drone footage (recorded by Eric Ramos as it is his project) through the BORIS event-logging software. The software allowed me to record the behaviors of the whales in the provided videos. The behaviors were coded on an ethogram, acting as a key so that I could easily mark the start and end of each behavior with a key press. Each of the sightings/videos can be shown easily on a plot like this:
As my research comes to an end in this course, I hope to compile the plots from each observation into a plot that shows how the whales of Guerrero spend their time. After this course, I plan to continue working with Eric over the summer, analyzing very interesting videos of whales interacting with other species. I hope to help him produce a publishable paper that uses some of my analyzed work. This is very exciting and a perfect example of how this course is so unique and useful. I would like to thank Laura for giving me the opportunity to experience this research. I have taken a summer research course with her before and it was amazing. I would recommend this course to anyone that can take it, especially those interested in biology or those unsure if they want to become a researcher/scientist.
CURE is a fantastic undergraduate research opportunity for those looking to improve their research skills, develop a project independently and learn data analysis techniques through a marine biology lens. I chose to do CURE this semester because I have always had a lifelong fascination with the ocean and its mammalian inhabitants. After learning how to scuba dive in the fall I wanted to learn more about marine bioacoustics data collection and analysis, in the hopes that one day I can work in field, assisting in the setup of hydrophones and other monitoring equipment.
For my project I examined the song structure of the northern humpback whale population (DPS6) that winters off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. In order to analyze song structure, I learned how to manipulate and annotate spectrograms in the bioacoustics software Raven 1.6 which is a useful tool to be familiar with. My goal was to program an algorithm in R Studio that would use spectrogram cross-correlation to automatically run through hours and hours of recordings and be able to generate various quantitative measurements of song structures. Unfortunately, that part of the project has been delayed due to setbacks caused by going remote. It is something I hope to continue in the fall semester because automated analysis would be extremely useful for whale bioacoustics research because it would save time on the data collection step of research. In addition to developing our research, we also had the opportunity to participate in the UVM Student Research Conference. Even though it was online, learning to condense the science into a single well-designed and concise poster is a necessary skill. Some would argue that being able to communicate science effectively is even more important than the actual science!
Overall, I am very grateful for the experience I had in CURE. It opened my mind to new research methods and techniques; I learned a ton about humpback whale singing behavior and I challenged myself. Even though not everything went as planned, Laura assisted me in every way possible and encouraged me to go out of my comfort zone and try something new. I am very thankful for Dr. May-Collado and all she did. She gives you the freedom to explore your individual interests but still is able to help you when you get stuck, which is certainly inevitable. I highly recommend CURE to anyone interested in developing new techniques, or who has a passion for marine life. I know that I will continue working in this field and I hope to keep listening to the beautiful melodies of the humpback whale!
After taking the CURE course this spring semester, I am definitely more confident in my research skills than I ever have been. Even though our projects were being completed in the midst of a pandemic when online classes were the only option, this course and my project were extremely adaptable to the new online format. Professor May-Collado is an incredibly caring and knowledgeable researcher that was always available for project help and advice. She also really lets her students explore avenues on their own if that meets their interests. I would highly recommend this course!
My project was on fish sound acoustic diversity in a biological reserve off the coast of a group of islands near Costa Rica. My original goal was to create a database of fish sounds that linked each sound I heard in the recordings to its species or family. However, as I delved deeper into the project, Professor May-Collado and I decided to look into the temporal changes in fish call diversity as the time of day and the time of year progressed. I really enjoyed being able to slowly but surely recognize sounds that came up regularly and hearing the overall diversity of calls that fish can produce. I got to hear everything from long, low ribbit-like sounds to harsh grunts to soft, dainty clicks, and that would only be in one minute of one minute out of a day of recordings!
Once I categorized each sound, I counted up the number of times each sound appeared over my study period and noted when it occurred. I was really doubtful that my analysis would show any significant differences, since scrolling through the data didn’t reveal any immediate, obvious trends. The data analysis part of this project was the most rewarding, however, because I got to see exactly how different times of day or the season affected the types of fish calls. The results were startlingly different and I was excited to see how much change there was!
Presenting at the Student Research Conference, even though it was online, was still one of the highlights of my semester. It was awesome to read other people’s posters and to see what else everyone had studied. I am excited to see what the next semester of students discovers!
Thanks for a great semester!
I am very grateful for CURE, for both the skills it has given me and the doors those skills have opened. I feel that for many of us undergraduates, research is a goal. However, actually getting into undergraduate research can seem unattainable and confusing. CURE streamlines that process, and not only are you able to get do research, but you are also allowed to create your own research topic and have guidance and knowledge constantly available.
Not only does CURE look wonderful on a resume, but it provides a multitude of different skills that are crucial for going into the professional world of science and research, from analyzing and synthesizing data to working with different softwares and technologies. I was especially grateful for the opportunity to work with different softwares, such as BORIS and Arbimonn.
Additionally, CURE can open your eyes to new passions and guide your future, by allowing you to learn about topics and parts of research that you enjoy (or don’t!). I never knew I had such a love for marine biology, more specifically manatees, before taking this course. These newfound interests pushed me to apply for multiple marine mammal internships and technician jobs after I graduate that I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. Further, as a senior, the way that CURE opens doors into the professional world was evident to me. As I have been writing cover letters and filling out applications, I find myself constantly mentioning the research I did in CURE and the skills I developed through it. This class is highly beneficial in so many ways, and I highly encourage anyone thinking about taking it to do so!
This semester I was lucky enough to have been a part of CURE, an amazing undergraduate opportunity. I had always been interested in the oceans and marine life; however, it wasn’t until this year that I had the chance to learn more about them. It was especially interesting to learn about marine animals in terms of their acoustics, as I had never really known much about that before. My research focused on the song structures of two humpback whale populations, and whether or not they were found to be connected. I had never known the complexity that went into humpback whale songs before beginning CURE, and I am amazed by all of the new information that I have learned about them. I analyzed sound recordings using Raven for my project, and it has really helped me to understand the types of programs that are used for real research. I enjoyed being able to complete my research independently, while also using Dr. May-Collado when I needed her to help me understand something.
I loved being able to be a part of research, and this course really spoke to me, however there were definitely times where it could be very frustrating. Doing real research means you don’t always have the answers, and there were many times where I was confused by what I was looking at or I simply didn’t understand why it was happening. These are the kind of experiences that I cherish, because at the end of the course we were able to determine that the two populations that I was studying are far more connected than previously thought. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to see how the long hours of going through every sound file really payed off. This course has inspired me to pursue marine biology in my future, despite not knowing what I wanted to do other than ‘research’ before I took this course.
I am very appreciative of Dr. May-Collado, because even when I was confused or frustrated, she was able to help me understand that real research takes time, and not everything can be fully explained. Listening to her talk about bioacoustics and the knowledge that she has about them has inspired me so much and I am so grateful for that. If you have the opportunity to be a part of CURE, I would definitely take that chance, because this course is so different than any other course I have taken at UVM, and it really makes you stop and look at the oceans in a different way.