What it’s like to spend a semester researching coral reefs in Bermuda

Photo courtesy of Liah McPherson/collegetownnc.com

Many students spend semesters away from UNC completing internships or studying abroad. Liah McPherson spent her fall semester studying coral reefs in Bermuda.

McPherson, a junior biology and cognitive science double major and marine science minor, has had a passion for oceanography her entire life.

“I’ve kind of just always loved the ocean and all aspects of it,” McPherson said. “My family traveled a lot when I was younger, and I grew up at the beach for a lot of my life, which helped nurture that passion.”

When McPherson got the opportunity to participate in a Research Experience for Undergraduates internship at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science in fall 2017, the decision to accept was a no-brainer.

The program, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, allows college students to participate in independent research at various institutions. All expenses – including travel, boarding and food– are paid, and a stipend is also awarded to the student.

During McPherson’s internship, which ran from late August to the middle of November, she studied how coral reefs reflect light and how that relates to their ability to convert light into energy, while working alongside many prominent marine science professors and researchers.

However, the internship opportunity required McPherson to un-enroll from UNC for a semester. While UNC’s re-application process is somewhat streamlined for students such as McPherson, she was unable to register for spring 2018 classes, which would be a deal breaker for many students.

But for McPherson, it was just a small speed bump on the path to her dream career.

After her undergraduate studies, McPherson plans to attend graduate school for marine science research, and she encourages any student interested in REU programs to apply.

“A lot of the programs are for the summer so you wouldn’t have to un-enroll, but even for the fall semester it was totally worth not being at UNC for a semester,” McPherson said. “The REU program in general is just so awesome. I would definitely recommend it”


Mary Alice Blackstock is a contributor to collegetownnc.com, where this article originally ran.