Student Science Internship @ The U

Calvin Rusley '16 describes his work in a lab at the University of Minnesota studying invasive forest insects


Calvin Rusley

Calvin Rusley '16 travels with his lab to Wisconsin to study and observe Gypsy Moth Caterpillars.

While some spent their summer unwinding with friends or aching in pain from hours of test prep, one student found interest and comfort in spending time with a very special group: forest bugs. In the summer before his senior year, Calvin Rusley ‘16 had the fantastic opportunity to work in a lab at the University of Minnesota studying invasive forest insects.

Amid the whirlwind of spring finals, Rusley emailed Dr. Brian Aukema, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Entomology Department. After contacting that professor, Rusley was able to apply to become a General Assistant at Dr. Aukema’s lab. Rusley was quickly accepted as a lab assistant and got straight to work once the summer started. He had various jobs, such as compiling data, tracking caterpillars and peeling the bark off from logs.

Rusley worked in a large lab, so he had the opportunity to work with many graduate students. As Rusley describes, he helped them with many projects, like “counting moth eggs and beetles, transferring frozen moths into bags, watering tamaracks, and compiling temperature data for use in a study of pine beetle over-wintering mortality (-40ºC is 100% mortality).” He also had the special opportunity to travel with his lab, going to Wisconsin to study Gypsy Moths and South Dakota to investigate Mountain Pine Beetles.

Overall, Rusley stated that “[the lab] wasn’t especially glorious, but [I] helped with some important work. My biggest takeaway is probably how little we know about so many of these invasive insects.” Specific to labs, Rusley also stated his that his love for labs increased during his internship. He stated that the lab was “like a really fun academic family.”

Despite his demonstrated interest in conservation biology, Rusley would still prefer to have a career in astrobiology. However, he noted that the opportunity to participate in the lab had helped him learn many lessons, such as going out and looking for educational opportunities and collaborating with a variety of people for a common goal. All of which, he will carry with him, not just inside the academic world but outside as well for a long time to come.