Gina Cerbie (Class of 2016)

photo of Gina Cerbie

  • senior Biology major with an Environmental Science co-major
  • minor in Molecular Biology
  • from Gurnee, IL
  • conducts research on freshwater mollusks and amphipods (First Year Research Experience program; University Summer Scholar)
  • presented at the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society meeting
"Getting involved in undergraduate research is an experience that I'll never have again after I graduate from Miami. This is the chance to try something new and find out if you like it or not; changing your mind and stopping is completely fine. Just give it a try!"

Why Miami?

"The chance to do undergraduate research was definitely one of the biggest factors for me. When I visited Miami, the biology faculty talked to us and gave us a little presentation. Everyone was really personable, and the opportunities that they mentioned for undergraduate research and teaching really caught my attention.

"Although I was interested in science, I didn't know exactly what kind. I ended up picking biology because in high school I had a really great AP bio teacher and said to myself, 'I'm going with this. I can always change it if I want to!' As it turned out, everything worked really well, so I never had the need to change.

"My first year was one of the hardest and yet one of the best for me. Although I was alone for the first time and didn't know anyone and everything was new, it was also rewarding to grow as a person. I lived in the First Year Research Experience Living Learning Community (FYRE LLC), surrounded by people with similar academic interests. We were in some of the same classes, and there were a lot of us interested in doing research.

"I learned that Miami offers a lot of different opportunities throughout the year. There's plenty of guidance to get to those opportunities, not only in research but also recreational, intramural, and much more. There's always something to do!"

Best Miami Experiences

Gina Cerbie at her field research site in Big Bend National Park, Texas

"I'm in a conservation biology lab, and I've really loved our field research trips. Since freshman year I've been working in Professor David Berg's lab, and I've gone twice to the New Mexico and Texas desert areas so far—once for two weeks and once for four. Dr. Berg has been really supportive in terms of classes, research, advising, everything. We've often talked about my life plans, what's going on in the lab, or anything that I needed.

"Professor Yoshi Tomoyasu has also been a great teacher and mentor. During my junior year he taught two of my favorite classes at Miami (BIO 444 [Molecular Biology] and 464 [Laboratory in Cell and Molecular Biology]), challenging me in ways that made me feel like a grad student because he really treats his students like his own colleagues. I've also worked a lot with Ashley Walters, a biology PhD student who's given me a lot of mentorship from the research perspective. We've become really good friends, and she knows both the professional and academic side of things.

"My biology major has prepared me for a career by showing me a lot of the options that exist. When many people hear biology they think, 'Oh, you're either pre-med or you're getting your PhD!' However, there are also a lot of things in the middle, and talking with Miami professors and grad students about opportunities has shown me many career choices that I didn't even know existed.

"In summer 2015 I worked at DuPont as a research lab intern, learning new techniques about analyzing the microbiota of food. This experience led me to beginning my own research study here at Miami to study gut microbiota of invertebrates. I love having that independence."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"Miami's liberal arts curriculum has prompted me to take classes I would have never signed up for otherwise. It's a common complaint that we have to go through the Miami Plan, but on the other hand these 'unwanted' courses really round out your perspective and understanding. I would definitely say it's worth it.

"Among my originally 'unwanted' classes were some in philosophy and music history. Since I've been so science-based, I wasn't really used to thinking in these non-scientific ways. Being exposed to other kinds of thought processes and concepts is not only interesting, but it has also opened me up to new ideas that influence my work in the research lab.

"What attracts me so much to biology is that it's the study of life, and I've realized that there are so many different avenues of study. Even if you start as a biology major freshman year, by senior year you might end up being more interested in something like landscape genetics in conservation biology. I don't think a lot of people understand how broad biology actually is.

"Biology also combines well with my environmental science co-major, opening up lots of doors in terms of conservation, endangered species work, and public policy. Pairing my major and co-major together has given me a demanding schedule, but it's not impossible. I'm never bored!"

Freshwater Mollusk Research

Gina Cerbie stands next to her research poster at the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society Meeting.

"I am super passionate about my undergraduate research. A lot of people think that the only reason to do it is to go for your doctorate, but I feel like research has given me a lot of professional experiences, challenging me to formulate and manage my own projects. This is applicable to so many things beyond a research career, and I definitely would recommend it. Miami offers research opportunities in a variety of fields so that everyone can find something that interests them.

"I joined Dr. Berg's lab during my freshman year in the FYRE program to study freshwater mollusks, looking at these organisms from an evolutionary perspective. It's been really fascinating to me, since what the lab is doing has never been done before anywhere else.

"My lab experience led me on a 4-week field research trip to New Mexico and Texas the summer after my junior year, along with grad student Ashley Walters and some other undergrads. We spent the time examining freshwater shrimp and mussels that live in desert springs and looking for new kinds of organisms. We used GPS systems and camped around beautiful, remote areas.

"Those trips were fun, giving me a chance to know my lab mates, gain new insight into possible career avenues, and just enjoy the team atmosphere. It was also a huge boost to our lab activity when we all returned to Miami, and I actually had the opportunity to present some of my research from these trips to about 300 participants at the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society (FMCS) meeting!

"Joining the rest of my lab to attend the meeting was exciting and special, as I was only one of seven undergraduates attending in total. Everyone else there was faculty, grad students, or biologists and other officials affiliated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department. It was a great networking experience that was super motivating and exciting for me. It sounds funny, but it was really a lot of fun to meet all these people that know so much about freshwater mollusks.

"My research experiences have encouraged me to think about becoming involved in clinical research, such as drug trials, when I graduate. There's a need for people with scientific research backgrounds to monitor drug trials. They travel to different sites around the country to make sure everything is going according to protocol. Even though that’s not the research I did as an undergraduate, I know I would be using the research skills I gained at Miami in terms of attention to detail, documentation, and managing projects."

Advice to Students

"When considering your path, talk to as many people as you can—though I know this is easier said than done. I always knew I wanted to study biology, but I had to talk to people in that department to find out more about the opportunities that exist with that major. It's okay to talk to someone without feeling obligated to pursue that path—just say, 'That's not for me' and figure it out from there. It's good to talk not only to the professors but also, if you have the chance, to other students who are doing what you want to do. You'll get to see what kind of things they like and don't like.

"Getting involved in undergraduate research is an experience that I'll never have again after I graduate from Miami. This is the chance to try something new and find out if you like it or not; changing your mind and stopping is completely fine. Just give it a try!

"Lastly, try to enjoy every second at Miami. It is truly an amazing place. You will have some of your best days here and probably some of your worst, but by the time you graduate you will be a different person than when you started.

"And don't forget to call your parents—they miss you!"

[September 2016]