Benjamin Gerstner

Undergraduate Research Assistant, The Rabeling Lab

You work in a lab.  What are you currently researching?

I work as an undergraduate student research assistant in Professor Christian Rabeling’s lab. In the Rabeling lab we work with many species of leaf-cutting ants. I work on one of the projects in the lab where we utilize genetic markers of the workers in an ant colony to reconstruct the parentage of the colony; the goal being to quantify the mating habits of specific species and postulate some answers to questions concerning speciation. If you find this interesting or have questions, I encourage you to contact me, Professor Rabeling, or any of the other lab staff.

What was it that originally sparked your interest in Biology?

My interest in biology came from my middle school general biology class that I took with Mrs. Stratton. She had a passion for teaching and the material that she passed along to her students. She created many hands-on activities and scoured the internet for resources for us students. I can remember that it was the first time that I had a real textbook for a class and I read it from cover to cover. From there, biology just continued to grow on me.

What advice would you give to prospective students looking to study in our department?

1) You do not need to become a biology major to complete the pre-med requirements. There are many reasons to be a biology major and that is not one of them.

2) Talk to the professors – believe it or not, every one of them was once in a place just like you. Build a relationship – in our department it is possible to have one-on-one conversations with professors – take advantage of that. Furthermore, you don’t need to have taken their class or even plan on taking their classes. Be interested and they will be interested in you.

What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned working here and/or studying Biology?

I have learned that no matter what it is that you study or work at, there is always room for improvement, whether it be self-improvement in your own performance or getting a better grade on an exam. In the biology classes that I have taken, I have learned that I will get more out of a class if I challenge myself in it. I set personal goals, even small things such as reading the textbook everyday, even if it is more than just the assigned reading. I have also learned that the right answer may not be black and white and that is why we do research; to try to answer these more complicated questions.

What is one thing about yourself that you’d like more people to know?

I am currently having the time of my life studying abroad in Ecuador. The choice to study abroad was not easy to make, as one may imagine. Planning courses, being accepted into the program, finding funding and even the anticipation of what it will be like to study in a different education system, can be major deterrents and even stop people from taking the opportunity. I want people to know the experience is far worth all of the time it takes to prepare. If you have the slightest inclination that you want to study abroad, look into it more.