Katherine Dziedzic went from being a landlocked young girl in Chicago, enthralled by all things connected to the ocean, to a marine biology doctoral student at Oregon State University after completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Miami.
Currently in her third year of the Integrative Biology graduate program, Dziedzic is not only a certified scuba driver but has also collected a Scientific Diver Certification, which means she can do science under the water. The latter is exactly what she did in Panama this summer after winning a College of Science Student Travel Award (COSSTA) scholarship.
One of the purposes of the highly competitive COSSTA funds is to support science students who conduct research in locations outside the country. The funds award one-third of travel costs ranging from $200 to $500 with a student’s home department providing matching funds to cover the remaining costs.
In the lab of her advisor, Eli Meyer, Dziedzic studies the Orbicella Faveolata or the mountainous star coral—an endangered species only found in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. She researches the impact of climate change on coral reefs and her travels usually involve collecting corals for experiments in a laboratory to study their thermal acclimation and adaptation to climate change.
Dziedzic got her first taste of marine life when she traveled with her parents to St. Thomas on vacation as an 11-year-old. Her guide introduced her to snorkeling and various ocean organisms. Excited by all that she had encountered, Dziedzic enrolled as a member of Chicago's famous Shedd Aquarium upon her return. She took advantage of numerous internships at Shedd, where she learned more about the ocean and participated avidly in the aquarium's activities.
In high school, Dziedzic took marine science trips to the Bahamas and to Australia, the latter sponsored by Shedd.
"We actually did science in the Bahamas and were told to come up with our own research project. From then on, I knew that marine science was what I wanted to do," said Dziedzic.
In Panama, Dziedzic did what she loves best. She dove into the ocean to photograph and collect corals, which she then studied in the labs at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation, both located in Panama.
Dziedzic aspires to work at an NGO on policy and management of coral degradation.
“My future plans are to get various fellowships at NOAA and other places to work on conservation. I would like to fuse policy and science by explaining what we found out and what we can do with this science to further conservation of corals,” said Dziedzic.
COSSTA award proposals are judged primarily on scientific merit and potential impact. Funds can be used for conference travel, presentations and for conducting research in the field. Since its inception, graduate students across departments and disciplines, from Biochemistry/Biophysics and Statistics to Chemistry and Mathematics, have received COSSTA awards to attend conferences and to pursue vital research projects.
Ben Brintz, a statistics graduate student, won the COSSTA award last year. The award enabled him to travel to Fort Collins, Colorado, to present a poster on his research at the Graybill Conference. He also attended a short course on Bayesian spatial statistics at the conference.
"Attending this class, networking with others at the conference and learning from others' presentations are all a valuable contribution to my eventual career," said Brintz.
Visit the COSSTA website for more information.