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Salamander Studies

NSF grant funds new research experience for college graduates

Undergraduate research is highly successful at preparing students for careers and graduate school. But Dr. Caitlin Fisher-Reid worries about those who miss out on such a transformative opportunity. 

“There’s this huge group of early career scientists who just need a little bit more attention,” said Fisher-Reid, an associate professor of biological sciences at Bridgewater State University. “They’re not getting the research experience but competing with students who have that experience.” 

With funding from a $3 million National Science Foundation grant, Fisher-Reid is leading a new program that will serve 30 people with undergraduate STEM degrees and limited time in the lab. 

Beginning in fall 2024, the first group of participants will work for a year as full-time research fellows studying salamanders at sites in the eastern United States. The program, run by faculty and staff at Bridgewater State, Pennsylvania State, Michigan State, Monmouth and Susquehanna universities, isn’t just about nurturing the fellows. It will also train mentors in ways to guide the fellows.  

Funding comes from the NSF’s Research and Mentoring for Postbaccalaureates in Biological Sciences initiative, which also seeks to increase the racial, gender and socioeconomic diversity of workers in STEM fields. 

“A lot of the problems are big problems that benefit from having diverse perspectives,” Fisher-Reid said. “Being able to reach different communities is really important.” 

Two salamanders on top of dirt.

That’s especially key with issues such as climate change where scientists must convince the public that the problem is worth their time and tax dollars, she said. 

Climate change is also a component of the fellows’ research. They will work as part of the Salamander Population and Adaptation Research Collaboration Network, through which Fisher-Reid and other scientists study how salamanders respond to changing environmental conditions.  

The amphibians make for good research subjects because they are abundant. Additionally, scientists can easily study their place in the food chain and how they respond to changes in temperature, moisture and the tree canopy. 

“This species is really, really intertwined with a lot of other things going on in the forest ecosystem,” she said. 

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