Perspectives Online

In His Words:CALS student Bobby San Miguel making tracks toward career in research and teaching

CALS sophomore honors student Bobby San Miguel works as a technician in Dr. Marc Johnsonís plant biology laboratory, focusing on the interactions between different organisms in ecosystems.

Photo by Becky Kirkland
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences research has kept sophomore honors student Bobby San Miguel on the move.

And that’s a good thing, he says, because he finds it hard to sit still.

“I love field work. It’s a ton of fun,” he says. “You end up traveling usually. And I like that because I just can’t sit all day in an office.”

San Miguel, a Miami native whose parents came from Cuba, plans to major in ecology and plant biology, with a minor in English.

Last year he worked on research projects with Dr. Nick Haddad in biology, and this year he is a technician in Dr. Marc Johnson’s plant biology laboratory. And thanks to Johnson’s encouraging him to make connections at Duke University, he is lining up a research project involving the Duke Lemur Center for late spring or summer.

 Here, in his words, San Miguel talks about his goals and what the chance to take part in research has meant.

What is your career goal?

I want to be a professor. I like the idea of teaching. I’ve experienced so far professors that really just impact me and make that course great and make me love that subject. And I want to be that professor.

I like research, too, and I love field work.

What’s your role in Johnson’s lab?

I’m a technician in the lab, so I help with just general things involved in running the lab – for example, I help with the recycling and I prepare gels so that I can run polymerase chain reactions used to analyze the DNA. And just today they taught me how to isolate DNA.

I am also involved in the lab meetings … every Friday.  We discuss a paper usually. … A lot of the stuff that we read is way over my head, but just with the discussions and being around them -- we have three Ph.D.s here and two grad students – I learn passively. I get a lot more out of it than just having something on my resume.

Why did you take the job?

I worked with Dr. Haddad last year, but my schedule didn’t work out to continue that this year. He referred me to Dr. Johnson, and I had been in a seminar with him before. He was a breath of fresh air -- a younger researcher who was very into his work and everything he does. I couldn’t be happier.

My idea when I came into college was that I wanted to major in zoology and plant biology. Zoology because I like animals a lot, and plant biology, because I always thought there’s no better way to understand consumers in an ecosystem than to understand your producers, and those are the plants. So you can’t forget about them; they are important.

The hands-on lab experience is valuable to San Miguel, who plans to major in ecology and plant biology and pursue a career in teaching and research.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
Ecology is all about the interactions between different organisms in ecosystems … and that’s what this lab focuses quite a bit on, plant-insect interactions in relation to herbivory (plant-eating). So I was like, “This is perfect, because that’s what I want to do. I want to incorporate both animals and plants into whatever research I go into.”

Why do you like doing field research?

Most of the people who do field research are really fun, easygoing people. It’s a good time, and I enjoy it. … [One weekend, he went to South Carolina to work with a graduate student from the University of Washington in Seattle who needed help over one weekend.] That first night it started getting dark, we were out in the middle of nowhere and we were studying plants, and it just felt like I was in “Jurassic Park” -- that scene with the Triceratops … You can ask Dr. Jordan from the Plant Biology Department -- he’s in charge of the undergrads; I told him before, “The reason I’m studying plants is because of that movie -- that one scene, where she’s there with the Triceratops and she’s looking at the plant and she says, ‘This a West Indian lilac,’ because she knows it is toxic and it could be causing whatever is happening to the Triceratops. I was like, ‘I want to be able to do that with a plant – to think of all these things that could happen.’”

Anything you’d like to add?

I am a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. I am actually the vice president of member development. I am a finalist for a 10-day trip to Greece that the fraternity sponsors over the summer. They send 17 men from different chapters across the country to Greece to learn, with a professor, about ancient Greek philosophy and why it is that we call ourselves a Greek organization. The organization is … a big part of my life as well and has given me the opportunity to develop leadership and team work skills that help me in the labs I work in.

Dee Shore