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Roberta Challener


Roberta ChallenerGS: Where are you from?
RC: I am originally from Shaker Heights, Ohio, but have lived in several states in the U.S.

GS: What degree will you receive and when?
RC: I am working towards my Ph.D. and hope to graduate this summer.

GS: What is your research?
RC: My dissertation focuses on the potential impacts of climate change on sea urchins. As CO2 increases in the atmosphere, it also increases in the ocean. Through a series of chemical reactions, increases in oceanic CO2 cause a decrease in the pH and carbonate saturation states of the ocean. This process is known as ocean acidification. I am interested in sea urchins as they can play important roles in marine ecosystems and are also important to the field of aquaculture, where significant reductions in seawater pH are also common.

More specifically, I am studying how increases in CO2 and corresponding reductions in pH and carbonate saturation states impact the growth, physiology, and behavior of larval and juvenile sea urchins. In order to determine the current chemical conditions that these organisms experience in the field, I have been studying the CO2 chemistry of seawater in a coastal environment in the Gulf of Mexico where my sea urchin species exists. This information will assist in making predictions about how sea urchins, and the ecosystems they reside in, will respond to near-future climate change.

GS: Why did you choose UAB for your graduate studies?
RC: I came to UAB to work with my advisor, Dr. James McClintock, who studies how marine invertebrates function in their environments.

GS: Have you received any awards or honors?
RC: 2013 Samuel B. Barker Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies at the Doctoral Level

2013 College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Award

2013 Graduate student oral presentation award, Benthic Ecology Annual Meeting, 3rd place

2012 Evelyn M. and Harold C. Martin Endowed Travel Fund

2011 Graduate student oral presentation award, American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, Aquatic Sciences Meeting, Puerto Rico

2011 Graduate student oral presentation award, UAB Graduate Student Research Days, 2nd place

2010 Graduate student poster award, Benthic Ecology Annual Meeting

GS: What has been your most rewarding experience at UAB?
RC: That is a tough decision; I participated in an 8-week, NSF-funded research cruise to Antarctica and I also had the opportunity to teach my own course in Advanced Invertebrate Zoology. The research cruise was extremely exciting and memorable, but I also really enjoyed teaching and working with the students that took my Advanced Invertebrate Zoology class.

GS: Who was your greatest influence here at UAB and why?
RC: Working with Dr. McClintock has taught me much about how to think and write like a researcher, as well as how to mentor students.  In addition, the faculty and staff in the Department of Biology have also been extremely supportive and helpful as I have worked toward my degree.

GS: What is your motivation in your academics/research?
RC: Science is all about problem-solving.  My motivation is that I am working on problems that are relevant and of immediate concern (climate change, improved aquaculture) and that my work will add to the existing body of scientific knowledge.

GS: What are your plans after graduating and for the future?
RC: I enjoy teaching and I hope to ultimately become a professor at a liberal-arts college that focuses primarily on undergraduate students.  I am actively applying for assistant professorships at liberal-arts colleges, as well as seeking postdoctoral opportunities that will enhance my existing skill sets and further aid in fostering exciting and timely research experiences for future undergraduates working under my mentorship.

GS: Is there anything else you would like to say?
RC: I would like to thank the Department of Biology, UAB and my family for the opportunities they have provided as well as their wonderful support in my endeavors.

Roberta’s Advice for Other Graduate Students:
A graduate student career is not just about doing the research.  Take the time to identify what you ultimately want to do and where you want to end up professionally, and start working on getting there as soon as possible.  Do not underestimate the importance of work-life balance (a strong support network is essential!), yet be persistent in meeting and exceeding your goals.