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SIT-Summer Institute in Taiwan
Academic Exchange & Cultural Experience in Taiwan
Julia L. Stevens
Working in Taiwan through the United States National Science Foundation’s East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute and Taiwan National Science Council’s Summer Institute Taiwan programs have had an immeasurable effect on my research and on me as a researcher. First, this program taught me the importance and necessity of building collaborations, specifically international collaborations. At the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium I worked closely with two labs: my host advisor, Dr. Chang’s lab and Dr. Jimmy Kuo’s microbiology lab. Open communication and willingness to ask questions are imperative when working in other labs. As a doctoral candidate in a microbiology lab, I was not expecting anyone to show me how to do simple tasks like making media, but had I not asked for someone to show me, I would have quickly learned their media is different and requires a different method than I am used to doing. I was also able to utilize local diving expertise in scouting dive locations and collection of lionfish. The opportunity was presented to dive and work with the man who wrote a book series on the best diving sites in southern Taiwan, and he was more than willing to allow me to dive with him and to collect lionfish samples when I was not on the dives.
These collaborations will continue to be sustained even on return to my home laboratory. Lionfish samples from throughout the Indian Ocean are currently be collected by Dr. Chang’s contacts and will arrive at the aquarium after my departure. When the they arrive, students from both Dr. Chang’s and Dr. Kuo’s lab will contribute to analysis of the samples. Fin clips will then be sent to me in Alabama for the genetic analysis. Interestingly despite having vastly different aims, my research and work of a student in Dr. Chang’s lab had similar methods so he was able to help when I was having difficulty with the molecular work. The work conducted in Taiwan adding to my dissertation work studying the biogeography and lionfish and their associated microbial communities will lead to publication of the results. Manuscripts will be a joint effort between labs and will support joint authorship.

Learning more than science.
Conducting research through this program, I have harnessed an ability to deal with setbacks and changes to the research plan. Originally, I had planned on conducting 40 dives to analyze the lionfish populations in situ around the Hengchun Peninsula of southern Taiwan. However, this year turned out to be a high typhoon year, with over ten typhoons hitting areas surrounding Taiwan rendering SCUBA diving impossible. These surveys had to be reworked to accommodate the 12 dives I could actually complete. On the other hand, while I dealt with that setback, I was able to significantly add to my project by the addition of lionfish samples from Cebu, Philippines and Bali, Indonesia, and more fish will be delivered from the Maldives and Sri Lanka both in the Indian Ocean, an area previously lacking in genetic data.
In addition to the research advancements on my dissertation made while in Taiwan, the experiences I have had have taught me how to work and travel internationally. I learned to be direct and straightforward with goals and expectations while leaving space for flexibility. When dealing with conducting research outside of my home laboratory as well as overcoming language barriers, simple, direct communication became a necessity. I learned that getting my point across in one sentence or less typically led to the most successful results.
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