Undergraduate Research Program

Terence Leach

Leach, Terence 150x200
Majors: Ecology, Evolution, & Conservation Biology, Oceanography
Minor: Marine Biology
Mentors: Dr. Gabrielle Rocap, Oceanography; Michael Carlson

Contact: tleach32@uw.edu

Current research project: Uncovering the Evolutionary Relationships of Pseudo-nitzschia

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
In my lab, we work with a group of microscopic marine phytoplankton called diatoms. Diatoms account for 1/5 of global photosynthesis and they make up the base of many marine food chains. Specifically, my project focuses on a genus of diatoms called Pseudo-nitzschia. Pseudo-nitzschia are known for their formation of harmful algal blooms in which they produce a sometimes deadly neurotoxin called domoic acid (DA). In my project, I am attempting to find a trend or connection between DA producers on an evolutionary level by sequencing DNA sections of various species of Pseudo-nitzschia and putting them on a phylogenetic tree to find their relations to one another.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
For those considering undergraduate research, I would strongly recommend getting involved. Go to the Undergraduate Research Symposium to see what others are doing. You don’t have to do research in your major, if you find something that you think is interesting and would enjoy, you should get involved in the vast amount of great opportunities at the University of Washington.

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to do research in a science field, so during my senior year of high school I applied to a program called GenOM ALVA. This program sought to take incoming minority students and introduce them to the vast amount of research opportunities at the University of Washington. Through this program, I was matched up with an Oceanography lab that I work in currently.

What is the most challenging and/or sometimes frustrating aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
Getting into research can be both challenging and rewarding. Being a student comes first, so on top of studying and any other activities that you are already juggling with hitting the books, you will have to add research to your workload. Although this will be a challenge, especially at the beginning, over time you will find how to balance your work. Time management is a great skill to have for the future, so honing it now will benefit you immensely. Do not let the amount of work scare you off; because you will be doing research at a university, most labs will know you are also a full time student. In my experience, I have found that most labs are flexible to class schedules. School and research can also work hand-in-hand because applying the concepts you learn in class to real life will help you a lot in both your research and in class.