Albrecht Fellow Chelsea Bergman starts her Master’s degree remotely

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Albrecht Fellow Chelsea Bergman starts her Master’s degree remotely

Dec 09, 2020

Chelsea Bergman became interested in eelgrass while she was an undergrad at San Diego State University. Given the opportunity to study eelgrass in the field, she was struck by how beautifully it flows in the water and was particularly charmed when she and her labmates found a baby octopus inside the eelgrass. This kind of discovery, while exciting, is not necessarily surprising; eelgrass provide important habitat for many organisms, including fish, crabs, and oysters. The importance of eelgrass as a habitat and as a carbon sink and shoreline stabilizer drove Chelsea to pursue eelgrass research for her career.

Chelsea found her way from San Diego to IMET because she had read several papers authored by her now-advisor Dr. Colleen Burge. The Burge was a perfect match for her; Chelsea’s undergraduate research had focused on the impact of climate change on eelgrass communities. Throughout her master’s thesis, she will be further investigating this question, with a focus on eelgrass wasting disease, which is caused by a protist pathogen called Labyrinthula zosterae, or Laby for short. She hopes to better understand how increases in temperature and decreases in salinity, both of which are expected results of climate change in the Chesapeake, will impact the prevalence and severity of eelgrass wasting disease.

While the match with Colleen’s lab was clear based on her undergraduate research, the path to a scientific career was not always as obvious. Reflecting on how she decided to pursue a biology degree, Chelsea recalled a former teacher who told her that she didn’t have the aptitude for science. While this made her less confident in the first few years at college, eventually she found that there was no reason to be nervous. She said, “I came to the conclusion that anyone else’s opinion about what I can and cannot do isn’t really that relevant because if I care deeply enough, I’ll make it happen.” She also shared that an important part of gaining confidence was finding a group of people to support and encourage her as she pursued her goals.

The Burge Lab is now a vital part of the support system enabling Chelsea to grow as a scientist. With IMET’s COVID-19 precautions, meetings, classes, and even lab protocol lessons are all virtual, yet Chelsea said that Colleen Burge and her labmates have gone above and beyond to make her feel included. Before the start of the term, Chelsea was already writing research proposals and participating in lab meetings. Now, other students are video-chatting with her while preparing and processing samples so that she is ready to hit the ground running when she can get into the lab. “Everyone in Colleen’s lab has been amazing and helpful,” Chelsea said. “It’s a very collaborative, cohesive unit, so I’m just excited to expand that even further once I can get into the lab at IMET.”

Chelsea is not sitting idly while waiting to start her lab work. In addition to lab meetings, writing, and learning protocols, Chelsea is taking four online MEES classes, which will set her up well to complete her Master’s thesis. She is rounding out her undergraduate biology education with the foundation course in cell and molecular biology, staying on top of the marine disease literature with a seminar course, learning techniques to process and present her data in a course on R programming, and ensuring she has a strong grounding in science research ethics with a course on the responsible conduct of research.

A strong background in eelgrass biology, a supportive lab, and a great mix of classes will enable Chelsea to succeed at IMET. Her education is aided by the James Albrecht Graduate Student Fellowship, which is supporting her first year of studies at IMET. Funding for graduate students can often be a challenge and this fellowship enables IMET to educate more students who are conducting research at the cutting edge in marine and environmental sciences. Chelsea’s advisor, Colleen Burge said, “I am very grateful to Dr. James Albrecht. His generosity helped me to accept an enthusiastic, passionate, and capable student.”

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