Externship Reflection ~ Padmini

Today is the last day of our externship. As an extern, I learned about the entire process of data collection and analysis for the Echinacea project. I worked through the workflow of processing the heads that were collected in the summer and then separating achenes, counting them, creating a random sample, x-raying, and classifying to determine whether achenes had a seed inside (were pollinated).

With all of the data that we helped collect, we got to pick and explore a question from 3 years of data of ~32 prarie remnants. I decided to work with paired samples (looking at the same plant over two years) rather than looking at the entire data set (or a population), which resulted in around 11 sites to analyze. Comparing paired samples is interesting, because they control for site, isolation, and other differences. With the pairs, I looked at whether burning influences reproduction.

Three aspects of reproduction- achene count, head count, and seed set interested me, because they all are extremely important to how many seeds are developed. Achene count did not change between burned and unburned years. Head count and seed set show some evidence (not statistically significant, but really close to it) that they potentially change between burned and unburned years. It is interesting that head count shows some differences, because I was a bit unsure whether it would change, as either genetic or environmental factors could play a role.

For more information and graphs related to my question and data analysis, here are my slides for the presentation that I gave today:

We also got to meet other people who work at Chicago Botanic Garden, walk around and enjoy the garden, get a tour of the production greenhouses, see the exhibition greenhouses, and watch presentations of other researchers at CBG. All of these experiences were helpful, and interesting to consider with doing research.

Overall, the externship has been a great experience. I learned a lot about using workflows, organizing work, writing and presenting work, the research process, asking and answering research questions, and more. In the future, I look forward to exploring more of science and research, whether with prairie organisms or elsewhere.


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