Student Research Profile: Sierra Trogdon and Antonio Robles

Sierra (2nd from left) and Antonio (2nd from right) and fellow classmates also spent time snorkeling in Honduras, when they weren’t conducting research.

Meet Sierra Trogdon and Antonio Robles. Sierra recently graduated from PUC with a degree in biology, while Antonio is still working towards completing his degree. They both conducted research with Dr. Floyd Hayes studying sea urchins in Roatán, Honduras, last summer.

Who are you?
I’m Sierra Trogdon and I graduated PUC with bachelor’s in biology. I plan to start veterinary school in the next few years.

I’m Antonio Robles and I’m a sophomore biology major. I plan to go on to medical school and specialize in family practice.

What did you do?
We participated in research with Dr. Hayes studying the symbiotic associations between rock-boring urchins and fish. Most of the work involved natural observations, counting holes with the urchins, and writing down every species seen in the hole. In intervals of 10 minutes, we spotted a fish and counted how many holes with rock-boring urchins they associated with. The study involved studying thousands of sea urchin burrows and tallying the different species seen hiding in their burrows.

When and where did you do this work?
The research took place over a period of eight days during the summer of 2017 in Roatán, Honduras.

What did you learn?
Sierra: During the research project I learned how to identify the various types of sea urchins, fish, and other species involved in the study. I also learned and realized just how tedious and time consuming it is to obtain accurate and reliable data. It was not as easy as simply counting and tallying the species. There were thousands of sea urchin burrows and each hole had to meet the right criteria in order to count. There were a couple times where I had to start over and redo counts to increase the accuracy and reliability.

Antonio: I hadn’t realized the fascinating opportunity research can give you to construct interpersonal skills by getting together with students and professors that are interested in finding one new aspect of the behavior of a certain species. Often we would get together to review our data and plan on how we will collect more as a group. I learned how working in groups is important in research as well and the importance of communication in the field. In addition, I learned how to record data in the coral reefs and new ways to observe nature with a curious mind.

How did your experience at PUC help prepare you for this experience?
Sierra: PUC helped prepare me by teaching me the general biology involving the marine life I encountered. The Intro to Research Methods class also played a major role in preparing me for the research I did. I planned and proposed a research paper that included background information and methods for counting the sea urchin burrows. This significantly increased my understanding of the research that was being done.

Antonio: Taking Biological Foundations helped me understand the phyla and characteristics of the species we were observing which led to my understanding of the project better. The Tropical Biology class also made me understand the diversity in the coral reefs, potential harms, taxonomy, and potential dangers. For instance, knowing fire coral could sting me while researching in the shallow rocky areas would definitely have made me uncomfortable; however, having known this before from class led me to become aware of my surroundings and feel comfortable during the research process.

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