Undergraduate Research Program

Claire Grant

Major: Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology
Mentor: Camilla Crifò, Biology

Contact: claireag@uw.edu

Current Project Title: Paleoecological Research: Reconstructing past vegetation to predict how our modern ecosystem will respond to climate change


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance:
My lab uses microfossils called phytoliths to reconstruct the vegetation of the past (was it woody forest, an open grassland or something else?). Phytoliths are solidified bodies of silica that are both passively and actively accumulated in plants. Our focus is on phytoliths from a time period called the middle Miocene which was the most recent major global warming event. We hope that with more information about how the vegetation of the past changed during warming events, we can better predict how our fauna and flora will respond to our current warming planet.


When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
It was near the end of my freshman year I realized teaching was my passion. After volunteering/ working as an overnight summer camp counselor, tutor, pipeline project volunteer, and eventually orientation leader I discovered college aged students were my favorite age group to work with. Along the way I also found myself engrossed in my upper level biology electives and reaffirmed that I never wanted to stop learning about biology. With graduate school a realistic next step in achieving my goals, I met with one of my favorite TA’s from the biology series who gave me the advice that I should experiment with working in a lab before I apply to graduate programs so I can be sure of what I do and do not like. I used the UW research database and from there found a few positions that I was interested in and started applying.


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Finding a lab that is asking questions that you are curious about and excited to contribute to is crucial. Less obvious is finding a lab that is a good fit for you as a person. Your lab mentors are the people who will be supporting you, pushing you and helping you grow as a person. They are also the people who make working in lab fun. I’ve met some incredible friends, mentors, and supporters through my lab. Lastly, take the time to reflect on how you are feeling about your research after participating in it for a quarter or so. Being able to be honest with yourself and how interested you are in what you’re doing can be hard, but it has been crucial for me in being able to find something I am truly passionate about.