During my research experience I was working closely with graduate students in the College of Engineering at NCSU. Together we were working on filtering and extracting wastewater samples from around RDU and testing them for the SARS-COV-2 virus. To our surprise, many, if not most, of the samples collected contained the virus. This was incredibly interesting to observe, as I had never previously dealt with wastewater, or viruses before.

This experience completely changed the way I look at research and the environment. Research to me always seemed never ending, and this was not attractive to me because I like to see results, problems solved, and changes implemented. However, I saw first hand how this was untrue during my experience. Being on the frontline of researching something like the cause of the current pandemic was invigorating. It brought us results, and opened the door for further research and investigation to solve the problem at hand and implement changes to fix it.

Along with my lab work, this experience has exposed me to the literature review side of research. I have been working on a literature review of studies revolving around large flooding events and sampling procedures. Within the review I broke down studies based on the matrix sampled, contaminant of concern, how sites were selected, sampling frequency, etc. What I found during this review was that most of the limitations surrounding large rainfall event studies came from the abundance of outside factors that come with natural disasters. Natural disasters often cause large amounts of destruction, making it nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact location of a release. This leads to the inability to conclude without a doubt that flooding is the cause of many findings. A common limitation was the inability to distinguish if concentrations of contaminants were changing over time due to increased surface water contact with contaminant sources, or if the larger amounts of water associated with flooding events dilute the microbial agents causing decreased concentrations. Additionally, sources of excess contaminants during large rainfall events are often hard to identify as it’s often not an option to oversee potential sources during the flooding. As I said before, I thoroughly enjoy solving problems, this being one of them. How can we make studying flooding events more accessible and accurate?

I feel this experience has had a major impact on my future career plans. Prior to practicing research, I had planned to graduate and continue my studies at NC State, though I was unsure of what to study and whether or not to do a thesis or not. But when plans changed, as they always do, and instead of staying in Raleigh, I got a job offer in Savannah, Georgia, I considered pursuing my masters a few years down the road in Georgia. When I brought this up one morning with Dr. Angela Harris, the professor I was doing research under, she raised several great points, as she always does. This conversation was pivotal in my decision to continue my studies at NC State, remotely.

Although my in person lab work will conclude this year, I have plans with Dr. Harris to continue diving into my literature review. Eventually, we expect to publish a perspective piece explaining how we believe flooding events can be more accurately studied. I am thankful for the opportunities the Terry Enrichment Fund has given me and I am extremely excited for what is to come.