photo courtesy of www.ncf.edu
Gilchrist encourages students to do field research and be involved in the community.
Field research during college is a necessary part of most students’ academic development. While not everyone appreciates it, those who excel at it have the potential to become people like Dr. Gilchrist, one of New College’s longest-teaching professors.
Unofficially considered the “invertebrate expert” on campus, Gilchrist has been conducting field research on hermit crabs for 26 years. Specifically, she researches how hermit crabs associate with their surroundings and other animals.
“I am interested in how hermit crabs interact with organisms,” said Gilchrist. “Finding the relation between some small species living in octopus dens was a surprise. I am interested in how they use resources as well.”
The land hermit crabs she studies are essentially the same species as those sold in pet stores, “much to my chagrin,” she stated.
Hermit crabs aren’t her only area of research. However, her other research is tangentially related to hermit crabs, and also has opened up opportunities for students to advance in field research.
“Because of the work with hermits on reefs, I have also become interested in disease and wound healing of corals,” Gilchrist explained. “I published a paper with Alumnus David Anderson on a new non-invasive method of sampling coral cells.”
Gilchrist is avid about students being directly involved with her research.
“Students should gain confidence in their ability to conduct field research,” said Gilchrist. “They should also find out whether they are interested in working in the field. The abroad experience is also important.”
On top of that, she also recommends that students showcase their research, even at an undergraduate level. Conferences in particular are preferred, according to her.
“Attending a conference is a great learning experience,” she said. “I am taking one student to a conference with me in January. She is presenting her thesis work.”
Gilchrist developed a strong appreciation for coral over the years. As the director of New College’s Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center, she helped develop a coral nursery at the lab.
Besides spearheading long-term research projects, Dr. Gilchrist is passionate about outreach and education. She teaches a class called “Marine Lab Outreach Project” (MLOP). MLOP teaches college students how to be better educators and to interact and connect with children.
In fact, her involvement with outreach and education in the community has earned her a considerable amount of attention. In 2006, the NAACP awarded her the Freedom Education Award (Dr. Elzie McCord received a Community Service Freedom Award as well). The award was for her efforts to reach out to K-12 students and teachers over the years, especially through MLOP.
If students have any questions about community outreach or field research opportunities through science, they are encouraged to ask Dr. Gilchrist about it. She can be reached via email or in person (by appointment).