Commitment to Research Prepares Biology Student for Grad School, Future Career

When Southern Illinois University Edwardsville December 2019 graduate Monica Berviller thinks back on her college experience at SIUE, it’s the people who stand out. The friends who have become like family and the faculty members who have guided her along the path to her future career in biology.

“My favorite part about my college experience has been the people I’ve met, both friends and faculty, who have helped me along the way. There’s a real support system here that I’m not sure you’d find at other colleges,” said Berviller, who graduated this month with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and will begin graduate school at SIUE in the spring.

Part of this support system stems from Berviller’s involvement in the research lab of Kurt Schulz, PhD, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. Schulz, whose research focuses largely on invasive plant species, invited Berviller to begin working in his lab based on her academic success in his class.

In the past year, Berviller has completed three independent research projects, two of which she designed herself. Through these projects, Berviller studied the effect of light duration versus light intensity in the growth of spinach, and she conducted a comparison of leaf litter deposition, soil organic matter and soil pH along a topographic gradient in the SIUE woods.

“Monica is a very strong student in plant biology, ecology and mathematics, with a real zeal for research,” said Schulz. “It is difficult for graduate students to develop and execute one research project, much less two as Monica has completed as an undergraduate. It stuns me that despite working long hours at an outside job, Monica has maintained excellent grades and demonstrated such a knack for scientific research. After her masters work with me here at SIUE, she intends to earn a doctorate in plant ecology. I am certain she will achieve this goal and much more in the future.”

Berviller’s third research project was a collaboration with Schulz and former graduate student Jonathan Clark in which they studied the release of phytotoxic chemicals from the invasive species Japanese hop. She will be listed as an author on this work once it is published.

“Gaining experience working in the lab will help me in graduate school not only because I am already familiar with my mentor and lab-mates, but also because it has allowed me to learn a lot of techniques that will provide useful for my future research,” added Berviller.

Despite her long hours working in the lab, Berviller still makes time to participate in campus organizations and personal hobbies. She is president of the SIUE Biology Club and a College of Arts and Sciences STELLAR Student. Additionally, Berviller taught herself how to play the banjo and hopes to learn the didgeridoo in the future.

“SIUE has given me the opportunity to figure out what my interests are and fully explore them. I have constant guidance from all members of the Biology Department, and even reach out to the Mathematics Department from time to time,” explained Berviller. “The ability to have a network like that has shown me the importance of building good relationships and makes me really appreciate the people I get to work with. Not only have I built great relationships here, but I’ve also gained a lot of knowledge about a variety of topics.”

After completing her education, Berviller plans to continue growing her knowledge by pursuing a research position with a state or national park.

“Being in the lab makes me feel like I’m doing something real that matters, even if it’s nothing groundbreaking (yet),” added Berviller. “Working in a lab is something I’d love to do as a career because being meticulous and patient are two things I’m good at, so it feels like a second home.”

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