Maddie Brown

Maddie Brown

Maddie is a senior majoring in Earth Ocean and Climate Studies with minors in Marine Science and Government & Public Policy.

Q: What research have you been involved in? 

I’ve done a wide range from medical research to computer science to climate dating. The first position I had was with a medical research team called AZ Research for Improving Diagnosis (ARID) which focused on pediatrics. The medical research was an entirely female team. It was a super positive and supporting group of researchers that really helped me figure out. They set my expectations really high about people I work with. I worked on two clinical trials with them. I did a lot of admin work and managed all their social media for a while. It was cool working with a medical lab though it’s nowhere near my field of study. 


Then, I worked on a Vertically Integrated Project (VIP) with the School of Information. We were doing robotics and coding, working specifically with middle school math and geometry and trying to combine robotics with both visuals and physical learning in Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality. Both undergraduate and graduate students worked together in this team. 

Then, I got an offer to work with the VIP faculty of that project, Dr. Winslow Burleson, the director of research for the School of Information. We have worked together for three years and this is the longest position I have held. The current project I spend the most time on is on ocean space habitat and aquanautics, which is relevant to my interest and goal.  


Q: Can you share more about the ocean space habitat project? 

I helped write the grant for that. Dr. Burleson is a co-inventor of this inflatable tent air pocket that you can bring down underwater. We’ve deployed two devices in the Biosphere 2 ocean. We are looking into making scientific and recreational scuba diving safer. We research the different gasses that collect in the diver’s bloodstream the deeper they are into the ocean that can cause decompression sickness. The goal is to do a completely submerged dive for 24-48 hours. The maximum right now is 6 hours with 2 people. We go to Biosphere 2 once every month and work with the staffs there to help facilitate our experiments.  


Q: How is this research related to your major and your future career goals? 

I’m applying for graduate school right now. I want to pursue a Masters in Marine Science. I approach every research opportunity as a good opportunity regardless of the field. I got turned down a lot by labs for no research experience, so I would take any possible chance. The end goal for my career is to research as a living. 

I want to study marine biology but I can’t tell a specific subfield. I think that coral research would be very cool. I’m also interested in how light and water pollution affects migratory patterns of whales. I think shark tagging and research with larger predators are very cool. I have a lot of interests in marine biology and I’m not limiting myself.  

Q: What do you like about marine science? Why did you decide to major in this? 

I was a biology major in my freshman year. I met with Professor Andrew Cohen who is a researcher in geoscience and paleontology. I was drawn to the geoscience department because of the research emphasis.  

I think my major is very diverse. I’ve taken a bit of every -ology class. I’m much more fascinated by the ocean side. I’ve always been drawn to the ocean. I told my parents I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was 7. There is a huge unknown in the ocean. We know even more about space. So there are so many possibilities to pose questions and answers in marine science research.  


Q: What skills have you gained from research? 

In a broad sense, how diverse the research I have participated in and all the fields I have been involved in have been really beneficial. We can be very limited by approaching a question and problem in a certain way. Working with so many different professors, colleges, and the people they collaborated with helped me see different perspectives and approaches to research. One of our partners with the ocean space habitat project at Biosphere 2 is someone from National Geographic. Many connections I have made have broadened my way of viewing questions. 


I’ve done admin work besides field work. I’ve learned how to write grants. I’ve written and edited multiple NSF grants. I learned how to write an IRB (Institutional Review Board, protect rights and welfare of human research subjects) for research protocols. I’m really grateful for these experiences which are not typical for an undergraduate. I find these somewhat tedious; it’s just a lot of politics and bureaucracy. 


I’ve managed social media for a research team for a while and run recruitment. I’ve learned how to draw bloods, do microscopic imaging and climate dating from geoduck (a type of clam) shells.  

Q: What is it like working in a research group? How do these connections help you? 

I feel very grateful to Dr. Burleson. I get invited and included in many meetings with other professors, marine biologists and representatives of other groups. He always introduced me to others people and encouraged me to be involved.  


I went to Biosphere 2 for a summer camp when I was 10. It’s somewhere I’ve grown up with in Tucson. So, I really enjoy doing field work in Biosphere 2. It’s mostly just me with Dr. Burleson and the co-inventor of the devices. I’ve met many cool people. Everyone has their story. It has been beneficial for me both personally and professionally. They have offered me their connections to help finding jobs or do scientific research in another state.  


A lot of research is about teamwork. It’s biased and unsustainable doing research on your own. Something I’ve learned about doing research is about asking questions and collaborating with other researchers. Research is humbling. You know nothing. It’s about learning about other people and acknowledging you are not the smartest person in the room.  


Q: What’s the biggest challenge of doing research? 

School! School has been the hardest thing throughout all of this. I’ve taken a lot of intense heavy class loads in STEM with 19+ credits. I’ve struggled with how diverse my classes have been. They are not always within my area of interest. I prioritize my research jobs a lot more than my classes. The drawback is that I didn’t always have the balance. To work around that, I spent a lot of all nighters. It forced me to learn how to say no. In doing 2-3 research jobs a semester, I learned how to balance that and say no without jeopardizing my position. At first, I was very eager to please my bosses by setting no boundaries. If they needed me, I would do it and that got problematic very quickly. Saying no has allowed me to balance my time.  

Q: Do you have any advice about balancing your study-research life as a student? 

You have to figure out your own personal boundaries and how comfortable you are. It’s all about decisions and every decision you make has a consequence. If you spend a week doing field work and get a 30 on the test because you prioritize research. There’s a pro and con to any priority. Finding a personal balance that works for everyone and it works for different situations. 

Q: What is the one thing you wish you knew about undergrad research before you got started? 

It’s about going for it. Any position you can get whether it’s the one you are dying for or the one you are being offered is important. There are so many opportunities that you can take advantage of. The diversity of research of UA is very broad. There is always a professor or a lab looking for an undergrad research assistant. Finding a lab to get into is the hardest part. Just be open to whatever opportunity or experience comes and be proactive in looking for and asking professors for projects.  


Q: What was one thing that was new and surprising to you when you first started research that you didn’t expect? 
The paperwork that goes into it is a bit surprising. How difficult the paperwork is behind every research decision is. You have to keep receipts and write everything down. The documentation is in some way the hardest part.  


Q: What university resources helped you look for research opportunities? 

I started on Handshake and applied to many positions. I emailed professors through Handshake and personal online research and asked them if they know any colleagues who look for undergrad researchers or any open positions. I was offered a job I already worked in during the internship. The VIP was from a departmental email.  


Q: Any final thoughts or takeaways from your experience? 

I think it’s great whatever undergrad research is available. It gives the next generation of researchers the tools they need to keep asking questions and improving different issues we are having in the world.