Students find a future through ORNL summer jobs

Summer work at ORNL is offering valuable experience for grad students. July 31, 2015

(WBIR) - College students are getting a closer look into nature through a different kind of summer job thanks to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Every summer, students work with ORNL researchers on multiple projects that both help the students with their schooling and help the researchers advance their work.

"The student gives a lot to us, too, and helps us. And it's nice to know you're helping someone," said ORNL Environmental Scientist John Smith.

Smith works with University of Tennessee graduate student Chelsea Standish. She is working on her thesis project while working on sampling insects.

"We are collecting four different groups: looking for earthworms, isopods, wolf spiders and herbivorous insects," said Standish.

She works with Smith and another researcher out in the field and said it's a better experience than in a classroom.

"I get to be outside, which is really nice in the summer instead of being cooped up in the lab the whole entire time. I like to be able to sit and observe all the different things that are around," said Standish.

The goal of this sampling is to look at the movement of mercury through different kinds of insects. Sampling them helps test the levels at certain locations.

"Mercury is kind of a global pollutant, so it's helping us understand where and how it travels," said Standish.

This kind of summer work is helping her decide her career path, too.

"Hopefully I can find something that's similar to this where I can be out in the field searching and also spending some time in the lab getting to look at them up close," said Standish.

Megan Fork is another student employee who came from Duke University. She just finished her third year in school there, and has two more years left.

"I had an opportunity to work here at Oak Ridge at some of the reservoirs, and it was too good to pass up," said Fork.

She uses a canoe and takes water samples out in East Tennessee reservoirs.

"For me, my overall personal goal is to understand the world better. But also we hope to understand how cities impact the world around them and how we can design cities to have less of a negative impact on the water. Especially the water in reservoirs that we or eventually someone is drinking," said Fork.

She said the experience has opened her eyes toward more career options.

"It is one of many options that I am considering. And the way the job market is right now, I kind of have to be open to everything, so it's a really great way to see what this kind of career could look like," said Fork.

Standish is going into her last year at UT for grad school. She continues to work on entomology projects through the university. Fork said the work lines up well with her work at Duke, which focuses more on city streams than reservoirs.


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