Jonathan Ellard ‘23 is a wildlife and fisheries sciences major with an emphasis in aquatic sciences and aquaculture, and he has a minor in ecology and conservation biology. Jonathan currently serves as a LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Ambassador, where he discusses research and research opportunities with students interested in getting started in undergraduate research. Jonathan’s current research project focuses on studying alligator gar. The goal of this research is to understand their movements and habitat usage depending on time of day to improve the management of these fish. His favorite part of being a student at Texas A&M is the connections he has formed with organizations on campus such as the American Fisheries Society Subunit and the Wildlife Society. Jonathan has been able to explore his interests and develop his passion for research due to the opportunities Texas A&M provided him. When he graduates, Jonathan intends to get a master’s degree in aquatic sciences, and then pursue a career as a researcher to find solutions for human impact on biodiversity.
Here is what Jonathan had to say about his experiences:
Give us a brief summary about your current research. How did your project begin?
In my freshman year of college, I began to investigate research opportunities that could inform the scientific community and public about ecological interactions and anthropogenic effects that negatively influence nature. These opportunities led me to the Riverscape Ecology Lab under Dr. Joshuah Perkin. Research in Perkin’s lab focuses on the conservation and sustainable management of freshwater fish diversity, understanding the effect of anthropogenic environmental manipulations, and developing approaches for mitigating these possible negative threats. In Perkin’s lab, I led a multiscale movement and habitat association study on alligator gar. In riverine systems, alligator gar are an apex predator and a keystone species that maintain healthy populations of organisms, influence terrestrial food webs, and potentially affect natural processes, agricultural production, and human dependence on natural resources. The alligator gar species is underrepresented in research and mismanaged in terms of lenient harvest regulations, due to historical misconceptions that their ecological role was destructive to the environment, which was likely based on their intimidating appearance. My reason for designing and leading this study was to build a scientific platform on this understudied fish in the areas of movement ecology, habitat use, temporal and spatial scales, and positive attributing management practices.
Did your experiences as an undergraduate researcher impact your trajectory in college? Have those experiences impacted what you are doing now?
My undergraduate research experience has been a central aspect to my professional development and knowledge expansion in a field I desire to pursue after my higher education. The character development I have gained from undergraduate research is just as great as the knowledge I have gained from hands-on interaction outside of a classroom. For me specifically, I participate in research that is related to my major. This research experience has contributed in a number of ways by allowing me to gain perspective on future career paths that I now want to follow, allowing me to personally enjoy something I am interested in, improving my performance in the classroom, and teaching me how to fail productively. The impact from undergraduate research is one that has affected my college experience and will influence my future after my undergraduate career.
If you could offer some retrospective advice for incoming freshmen, what would you tell them? How about aspiring undergraduate researchers?
For incoming freshmen, I would advise you to reach out for opportunities that interest you. Being at such an inclusive and involved university there are so many avenues for you to explore possible career paths and even personal interests. If you see an event, internship, research opportunity, organization, or things of this nature that may interest you, go experience it for yourself. It’s through involvement and trying new things that you find your passions and even happiness. I also advise undergraduates interested in research to not be afraid to explore topics and areas of study that interest them. Undergraduate research is for everyone; it is not exclusive to any specific field, research area, person, grade classification, or demographic. If you are interested in undergraduate research, reach out to professors and other undergraduate researchers (LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Ambassadors) to learn how you can get involved as soon as possible. Undergraduate research allows you to build so many attributes for your education as well as your character and it is well worth any time commitment.
Who has helped you throughout this process? Talk about any mentors, friends, family, etc.
A big mentor in my undergraduate research process and my involvement with similar programs was Hayden Roberts, a graduate student that I worked very closely with on my research project. He, along with the Riverscape Ecology Lab and my advisor Dr. Joshuah Perkin, have served as integral anchors in teaching me almost everything I know in fisheries science research. The line of communication and passion by these three components has made research more exciting than I could have ever expected. The amount of feedback, help with projects, support, and willingness to progress other individuals in this lab has really been influential to my success in undergraduate research. They all served a part in encouraging my interest in research and my desire to become involved in other research related programs (such as LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Ambassadors) so that I can help others experience the fulfillment research has to offer. Other influential people that encouraged and supported me to pursue undergraduate research and similar programs were my family and friends in my hometown and here at Texas A&M University.
Learn more about Undergraduate Research Ambassadors at https://launch.tamu.edu/Undergraduate-Research/Ambassadors
Ambassadors are trained to assist students researching in any discipline.
Learn how you can get started in research by contacting Jonathan directly here: https://launch.tamu.edu/Undergraduate-Research/Ambassadors/Current
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