Pioneer Scholar Spotlight: Christina

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Pioneer Spotlight Christina

“I wanted to challenge myself and really accomplish something with my writing.” Pioneer Scholar Christina

Pioneer Scholar Christina from New York, USA, is willing to challenge herself and able to “think outside the box.” Those qualities helped her accomplish her goals in participating in the Pioneer Research Program. By challenging herself, she improved her writing skills and successfully wrote an independent research paper before needing to write papers for college classes. And by thinking outside the box, she raised a significant question in her paper, “The Intensifying Species Problem in Conservation.”

Christina chose the research area of Ecology because she had a long-term interest in both biology and the environment, and ecology combines the two. In the process of reading articles to help her choose her research topic, she was struck by an odd fact. A tiger, for instance, is not 100% a tiger. Its DNA includes bits of DNA from cheetahs, and perhaps other animals as well. Noticing that led her to wonder just what the word “species” means.

Christina’s professor encouraged her to follow up on her question. After reading many more articles about the volatility of species in today’s world, where hybrids and gene transfers and gene manipulation through techniques like CRISPR are an increasing reality, Christina concluded that any definition of a particular “species” was likely to be incomplete. She suggested that the Endangered Species Act was not really accomplishing its goal by trying to protect narrowly defined species, and that perhaps it would be better to set aside “big, big pieces of land to protect all the species there.”

Christina had to work hard to accomplish her goals, and she advises new Pioneer Scholars to do the same. She encourages everyone to be well prepared for the group sessions with one’s cohort of peers, because this is a place to ask questions that can help clarify ideas and lead to an interesting choice of paper topic. She said her professor had had the impression that she was shy, and so was surprised that she asked so many questions. When it came time for her one-on-one sessions, she decided she could use the time most effectively if she had “a list of the questions I wanted to ask my professor,” and “an outline of how to spend my time with him, just to make sure we got everything done that I wanted to get done.”

This process helped Christina gain confidence in her own ideas. At first, she said, “whenever I had an idea, I thought that maybe it wasn’t correct.” But after being told often enough by her professor that her ideas were good, Christina learned that she could think for herself—and even think outside the box.

Christina will be continuing her studies at Stanford, where she is looking forward to pursuing her interest in biology.

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