My internship at Mystic Aquarium and the University of Connecticut

Name: Catherine Guinovart

Hometown: Key Largo, Fla.

Major: Sustainability and the Environment


Where did you intern? I participated in an National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Mystic Aquarium and the University of Connecticut.

How did you get your internship? I found the opportunity on the NSF’s REU website and then I applied.

What did you do there? What projects did you work on? I conducted an independent research project about aquaculture of a Caribbean fish called the royal gramma. As coral reefs decline, aquaculture of marine ornamental fish is one important way we can alleviate overfishing pressure on threatened coral reef ecosystems. With the help of my research mentor, Paul Anderson, Ph.D., I learned how to code fish behavior, analyze large data sets, how to maintain saltwater aquarium systems, how present my results to both a scientific audience and the general public, and so much more! My project was on establishing the optimal sex ratio for broodstock groups of royal grammas in a small-scale aquaculture system. As part of our results we were able to make a recommendation to the commercial aquaculture industry to use a ratio of one male to two females in broodstock groups to maximize courtship and nest use behaviors and minimize aggression.

What was the coolest thing about your internship or that happened during your internship? The coolest part of my project was the moment when my data started to make sense. It became more than just a string of numbers on a spreadsheet and turned into the answers of the questions I was asking. It was a big “Ah-ha! moment for me.” I also met so many amazing people from all over the country and made friends for life.

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? Just put yourself out there and don’t doubt yourself. You are more qualified and ready than you think you are. Also, don’t be too afraid to create your own internship opportunity. If you learn about a person who is doing what you want to do, reach out to them and ask them how you can help them. People want to help you succeed, but you need to take the first step.

What did you like most about your experience? I liked being able to work at a university and spend every day doing research. I also liked teaching people about the “big picture” of why my research matters to the health of coral reef ecosystems. The University of Connecticut’s collaboration with Mystic Aquarium also brought about unique opportunities to shadow departments in the aquarium and learn about exciting jobs in the field of marine science. We also visited Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and got to check out the Alvin deep-sea submersible, which was so cool!!

What did you learn about yourself? I learned that I really enjoy research! I have spent many years working as an Education and Outreach Coordinator with FIU’s Medina Aquarius Program, so I knew that I like teaching, but I had never conducted my own research project. I loved being driven by my own curiosity, sense of exploration, and desire to know more!

How did the position increase your professional confidence? It really made me feel like I made an important contribution to the future of aquaculture of marine ornamental fish. Currently, 85-90 % of commercially available marine ornamental fish species are collected from the wild. This practice negatively impacts fish populations and the coral reefs they inhabit. Thanks to my efforts, we were able to make a recommendation to the commercial aquaculture industry on aquaculture protocols for the royal gramma which is exciting!