Joseph Zottoli: National Science Foundation internship

Joseph Zottoli '16 researched American horseshoe crabs during his internship at Rutgers University.

Year: Class of 2016
Major: Biology
Hometown: Holden, MA
Research internship: Research Internships in Ocean Sciences (RIOS) program, Rutgers University
Next steps: Applying to graduate schools for fisheries or marine ecology

RIOS is Rutgers’ National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF REU) program.

Research internship with the National Science Foundation

The goal of the NSF REU program is to pair students with mentors and allow them to independently work through the research process.

My research under the mentorship of Rutgers professors Dr. Paola Lopez-Duarte and Dr. Ken Able was focused on nursery habitats for early-life stages of the American horseshoe crab in Great Bay-Little Egg Harbor, NJ.

I conducted lab experiments and field sampling to determine the substrate preference and distribution of juvenile horseshoe crabs in the bay. I was also able to get involved in other student and faculty projects conducted at the marine field station, like fish trawls, ichthyoplankton sampling, and fish diet analysis.

Scientific research: rewarding process

The internship was an invaluable tool for diversifying my research experience while sharpening the skills necessary to complete the scientific process.

The experience helped broaden my focus and showed me that scientific research is a rewarding process. We come up with a new idea that people haven’t seen before and build off of that.

I’m now more prepared to conduct science independently, and in addition to increasing my knowledge base, I also made connections to potential graduate school advisors.

Presenting at the Ocean Sciences Meeting

I was honored to receive a nomination to attend the Ocean Sciences Meeting for winning first prize in the final research presentation of the program.

The National Science Foundation sponsored my trip to the conference in New Orleans as part of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) multicultural program.

Experts from around the world were among the roughly 5,000 scientists who attended the conference. I presented a poster of my work to dozens of scientists and sat in on a wide variety of presentations.

It was a very productive week for me that helped strengthen connections and form more.

conducting research in the oceanResearch on American eels

I’ve been doing research with UMassD professor Dr. Ken Oliveira for two years. He helped prepare me for my internship and sharpened my skills as a scientist.

This fall, fellow student Kurvin Li and I wrapped up our two-year research project evaluating the maturation hormones and techniques on the American eel at UMass Dartmouth and the SMAST Marine lab under Dr. Oliveira’s supervision. We’ll be presenting our findings at the undergraduate research conference at UMass Amherst in April.

This semester, I’ve been aging American eels using small ear bones called otoliths. These bones can be used to estimate age because they grow as annular rings in a similar manner to trees.

Future as a fisheries biologist

I’m applying to graduate schools using the skills and connections I’ve acquired from my REU experience. I plan on getting my master’s degree in fisheries or marine ecology and pursing a career as a fisheries biologist.

Marissa Matton and Tricia Breton contributed to this spotlight.

More information

College of Arts & Sciences: Biology

Office of Undergraduate Research

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