Leaders of the Pack
The College of Science community at Northeastern includes not only current students, but also alumni, business and research partners, parents, and friends. Your support and engagement make this a vibrant place to learn and grow, regardless of your connection. We welcome you to become an involved member of Northeastern’s College of Science, and to explore the lifelong benefits of being part of our Husky Pack.
A gift of funds or time furthers the exciting and important mission of our college community.
Work the Network
Connect with our global network of alumni and partners or help provide professional development for our college community.
NORTHEASTERN IS WHERE YOU ARE
Regardless of where you are, your Northeastern network is there for you. Bond, socialize, learn, or build personal connections with your community. Find an event to attend to attend.Find Alumni Events
Marine Biology student Gwendolyn McManus is co-author of a new paper in Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology examining behaviors of the Flamboyant Cuttlefish.
She chatted with our team recently about her work as a co-op at Marine Biological Laboratory that led to the publication, and her current projects.
What drew you to MBL’s Hanlon Lab for your co-op?
I chose the Hanlon lab because they studied cuttlefish camouflage, which I thought sounded interesting, but also because the job involved animal care, and because there was a possibility I could do some scientific illustration work, which is one of my hobbies. I did end up creating the illustrations that are featured in the paper, which was such a cool experience!
Since the lab studies primarily European cuttlefish (which aren’t found in the Americas), my co-op was much more lab-based than field-based. I did, however, go to the beach every week or two and spend a few hours shaking seaweed into plastic tubs to collect gammarid amphipods that we used to feed our youngest cuttlefish!
What was your favorite part of the work?
My favorite part of the work was getting to interact with the cuttlefish day-to-day. Our animals were very aware of the fact that humans = food, so they liked to come up to the surface when you approached and raise their eyes above the water just to see what was going on. All of them had different personalities and tendencies as well! By the end of my co-op, I got good at telling them apart, even in tanks with 3-4 identical animals.
What are you up to now, and what’s next?
I worked in the Hughes Lab at the Marine Science Center during my Spring 2020 co-op, and transitioned to virtual work after COVID. I’m currently collaborating on a project to develop a video game that will teach students about the ecology of seagrass beds. We’ve got a long way to go on the project, but it’s fun work!
I’m hoping to get my master’s degree with the Three Seas Program in 2021-22, and I haven’t decided exactly what to do after that. I really enjoy the intersection between science and art, so I can see myself ending up in research, conservation, or educational/awareness work of some kind.
Roger T. Hanlon, Gwendolyn McManus. Flamboyant cuttlefish behavior: Camouflage tactics and complex colorful reproductive behavior assessed during field studies at Lembeh Strait, Indonesia. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 2020; 529: 151397 DOI: 10.1016/j.jembe.2020.151397
Zoe Daunt is a fourth year Mathematics major with a Spanish minor. She is also co-founder and president of Northeastern’s Student Chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM). Additionally, she serves on the math department’s Diversity & Inclusion committee and the Bridge to Calculus planning committee. This is her story.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am currently on my second co-op as a Policy & Research Co-op at Boston After School & Beyond, an education non-profit in Boston. My first co-op was an actuarial position at John Hancock on the Liability Modeling Team. I have also worked as a tutor for the math department (peer-tutoring), Balfour Academy, and Bridge to Calculus (both high-school students). Over the course of my current co-op and tutoring experiences, I have re-discovered my passion for education. I plan to participate in a (virtual) study abroad program in math education next semester. I will graduate in the Spring of 2022 and enter a PhD program in pure mathematics that fall, as well as pursue a higher degree in math education in the future.
Have you enjoyed your time at Northeastern? Do you have a favorite memory?
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Northeastern, especially since a few friends and I decided to form an AWM Chapter in the math department (click here for more info about student chapters). Being a part of AWM has been such a positive experience and has opened my eyes to so many opportunities to help myself, as well as others, succeed as a mathematician.
Could you speak about the Association for Women in Mathematics both as a whole and as your chapter?
AWM is a non-profit organization founded in 1971 that has grown into a leading society for women in the mathematical sciences. In addition to programs such as teacher partnerships and research groups, AWM aims to influence mathematics culture more generally, and make it a more welcoming environment for young women. There are over one hundred AWM Student Chapters nationwide that are doing amazing work to increase the visibility of women and other underrepresented groups in the mathematics community.
Northeastern’s AWM Student Chapter was founded in September 2019 by four undergraduates studying math, with the goal of creating awareness to the underrepresentation of women in mathematics. Since its inception, over 80 undergraduates have joined the student group, along with a few graduate students. The chapter hopes to foster a communal environment within the math department that empowers women and other underrepresented gender identities in STEM to conduct research, experience co-op, study abroad, and more. The core of our work involves the development of events and workshops that aim to support chapter members in fulfilling their academic and professional goals. We also share resources to promote student engagement, such as volunteer, career, research, and grad-school opportunities.
What type of events have you done recently?
In the past, we have held an undergraduate research panel which consisted of 4 undergraduates that had participated in one or more REUs (Research Experiences for Undergrads). We also hosted a professional development workshop in partnership with Steve Savitsky (math co-op advisor) and a few math professors that had several stations (headshots, linkedin, cover letter/resume table). This semester we are planning a speaker series and a co-op panel in addition to chapter meetings. We have also secured funding to distribute remote learning care packages to all of our members. In the future, we plan to hold more educational workshops, career and research panels, and other fun math-related activities.
What is AMW really all about?
The chapter’s mission coincides with AWM’s community mission statement, “ We hope our AWM Student chapters will become communities with an awareness of and sensitivity to the unique features – both positive and negative – of promoting gender equity in the mathematical community. Our aim is in reducing barriers for historically under-represented gender identities and gender expressions. To this end, the AWM community strongly stands by its nondiscrimination statement to create a supportive environment for all.”
One of the most vivid memories Martin Rodriguez-Vega has of his hometown of Comala—located in the western coastal state of Colima, Mexico, and famous for its all-white buildings—is seeing flocks of birds flying into beautiful sunsets.
Rodriguez-Vega recalls watching the birds swooping in the sky as if dancing harmoniously—each bird flying adroitly to form large and intricate patterns in the air.
At the time, the interaction between those birds was simply something upon which Rodriguez-Vega liked to gaze. Later, as a doctoral student in theoretical physics, he came to understand that the birds’ behavior was an example of a complex phenomenon scientists call emergence: patterns or behaviors that form or emerge thanks to the dexterity of the individual parts of a dynamic system, such as birds in a flock.
Co-ops are the cornerstone of a Northeastern University education. Applying classroom lessons to real world environments can be a transformational learning experience. So how does it work during an international pandemic?
Throughout the Fall 2020 semester, we’ll be checking in with COS co-ops to find out. Read about their unique Northeastern experiences and the ups-and-downs of COVID-19 on their work, their social life, and their thoughts on the future.
Read the first profile here and follow the series with the hashtag #COSCoop
Meet Leilani Potgieter, Research Assistant at Harvard Medical School/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Can you tell us what a standard day is like for you working there?
My job initially was helping researchers run behavior studies with mice to collect data. That role has changed because of the pandemic, so I’m doing a lot more widespread responsibilities than I was expecting. I’m mainly working with a postdoc to collect data for behavior studies. A typical day for me was doing studies in the morning and then doing data analysis remotely in the afternoon.
Things are a lot more flexible now that we are done running that specific cohort of mice on behavior, so I’m mainly helping with slicing brain tissue and getting slides ready.
How are you splitting your time between in-lab and at home?
I haven’t spent a full day in person in the lab since I’ve started. I’ll do maybe maximum six hours in person and then some days less, but I also work from home every day. So I’m still working 40 hours a week, but about half of my time is remote.
How has that work setup been going so far?
It’s kind of half and half for me. I really enjoy having the opportunity to work remotely and that I can start my day off in the morning at home, more relaxed, not having to run into the lab to get there on time. But I also like having a place to go to work.
What were your expectations when you first started and how has that changed?
It kind of changes depending on what phase we’re in. There’s a lot of steps in doing a study with mice: things like breeding, getting the mice used to being handled, etc. Then you’re collecting their behavioral data and analyzing the tissue. So things change on a week-to-week basis.
I have to keep checking in with my postdoc to see what it is that we’re up to this week. But I definitely am responsible for a lot more now that I’ve been trained. So from the beginning of my job to now, my postdoc is more comfortable leaving me alone to do certain tasks that I would not have been left alone to do prior. I’m progressing in my lab skills specific to this job, but I still wouldn’t say I’m anywhere close to being okay doing everything by myself.
Is this your first or second co-op and how is it helping shape your career thoughts?
This is actually my first co-op. I know it’s kind of strange for me to be a fourth year on their first co-op, but I studied abroad in my second year and that messed around with my schedule. I have worked in labs prior to this, just not on co-op, so I wasn’t going in blind.
One of the things that I’m noticing is the difference in dynamics between this lab and the previous labs that I’ve worked in. I’ve seen is that there’s a lot less communication and a lot less community, which I really valued in one of the labs that I worked in at Northeastern. I’m also learning that unfortunately I’m not a huge fan of working with mice.
I’m thankful that this co-op has helped me figure out what I want to spend my entire career doing. It’s really valuable to have a temporary position where I’m able to figure those things out without fully committing.
What have you learned from your co-workers?
Some of my relationships with my co-workers are really great. It’s unfortunate that we don’t get to spend as much time together because of the pandemic.
Also, learning about what co-workers did before coming into the lab and what their plans are helped me realize it’s okay not have everything figured out yet. There are people at every stage of their scientific career working here, and there’s this unanimous sense that, sure, I have a plan for the next couple months, but do I really know what I want to do with my life? Not really. It’s nice to see that, everybody feels a little bit of imposter syndrome and everybody kind of feels as if they’re here and qualified to be doing these things, but still “iffy” on what where to go from here. So that’s heartening to know.
Has going from the classroom to the lab accelerated or altered your learning process?
Yeah, definitely. So one of the things that I always noticed in class before I had any real practical neuroscience lab experience was that it was hard for me to put the things that I was learning into context. Everything was abstract.
That was one of the things I was grateful for in this job and in my previous job—that when you’re slicing brains and studying a specific part using a method you’d learned about in class—you’re getting the visual context. You can then say: In this slice, I’m looking at the hippocampus here, and looking at the cerebellum there. That’s super valuable.
I think it’ll really help going forward in classes. Being able to learn about parts of the brain where I can say to myself, “I know where that is.” Putting it in context allows me to be able to understand the more abstract parts of neuroscience.
Studying the brain might feel unapproachable to some. How did you get interested in this program?
I decided I wanted to study neuroscience during my junior year of high school while watching Brain Games, the show by National Geographic. It was just Jason Silva on the screen saying “When you feel fear, your amygdala, it lights up… and here’s a picture of a brain… and this is all this stuff that’s going on. Now we’re going to show you this in-person study….” I thought, “That was really cool. I want to do that.”
With STEM in general, there’s a lot of people who have this idea that this is only for really smart people. That you really have to know what you’re doing at all times to study STEM, which is not true. All it takes is working with somebody that is familiar with your interests. Being able to have a conversation and learn what inspired them to do it so you can do it too. I’m really excited that I’ve been able to have that experience—to talk to my professors and talk to my coworkers—about what makes them excited about science. The stigma around neuroscience can be really difficult, but if there are other people just like you who can do it, then you can do it too.