The Westfield Voice

The Student News Site of Westfield State University

The Westfield Voice

The Westfield Voice

CURCA Column

Have you ever had a burning question you couldn’t answer? Dreamed of being on the cutting edge of human knowledge? If so, you’re not alone! Welcome to the CURCA Column, where we get a sneak peek into Westfield State University’s world of undergraduate research. Each column will feature someone from any discipline to showcase their work.

For this edition, I met with Jarrod Peterson, a fourth-year biology major. This year, Peterson plans to present his research at the CURCA symposium in the Dower Center, Dec. 7, from 1-4pm. Peterson is the president of CURCA (Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity), a student club open to all that tries to provide the social network and resources that student scholars need to get inspired, and get their projects off the ground.

What are you working on?

Peterson’s work focuses on a type of “walking fish” called sea robins. These fish have bizarre feet, or modified fins, used to tromp around the sea floor instead of swimming. Weird, right? Researchers believe that sea robin “feet” may help them detect prey and conserve energy while foraging. In fact, sea robin feet have such a unique design, they may provide inspiration for future robotics and lightweight prosthetic.

One does not simply… Study walking fish. Right?

Peterson started his WSU journey as a criminal justice major, switched to movement science, but ultimately ended up in the biology department just before junior year. One day during Peterson’s anatomy and physiology class, Professor Dr. Ramsay shared a tidbit about the research he was doing. After hearing about Dr. Ramsay’s research, Peterson was soon itching for a project of his own.

Peterson spoke to Dr. Ramsay after class, who had plenty of research questions to choose from. Three semesters, two independent studies and a summer internship later, Peterson is looking forward to submitting his fishy findings to the peer reviewed Journal of Morphology. Peterson will be the first author listed on his piece, in front of his professor. This is a big deal for an undergraduate, for being the first author entitles you to most of the credit for the piece.

According to Peterson, the biggest challenge of doing undergraduate research was figuring out where and how to start. “Don’t be afraid to just ask a professor how to plug in,” said Peterson. Although the sea robin idea came from Dr. Ramsay, it’s important to know “you can work on whatever you want! Not just what professors want. But, they often have good ideas to start from.” Said Peterson.

Has research changed your experience at WSU?  

Peterson was initially thinking of working in the healthcare field, but is now applying to graduate schools for biological research, so CURCA definitely affected him. The independence and confidence gained while doing research has been transformative for Peterson’s professional aspirations. In addition, Peterson reported learning 10x more in his independent study than in a traditional class.

Any recommendations for up and coming WSU scholars?

“Don’t be afraid to start early, even your first year at WSU! The biggest thing is to just consult with a professor and ask for help when you need it. Overall, completing research while an undergraduate will make you really stand out if you’re interested in graduate school!”  

Peterson can be contacted at [email protected]

If you are interested in being featured in the CURCA Column, contact me at [email protected]

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