TAing and Marine Biology

Yesterday I TA’d my first lab, and it was lots of fun! I also sat in on another TA’s tutorial to get an idea for how to run one myself. I’ve never TA’d before, but I’m not a stranger to teaching in general. I’ve taught lab techiques, methods, & safety for years, as well as occasional personal tutoring, teaching martial arts (all ages), etc.

I think I’m really going to like my tutorial. The tutorial groups are smaller than I remember my tutorials being as an undergrad, so I’m looking forward to getting discussions going. My impression of the class so far is that people are quite willing to ask questions when they have them (again a big difference from many classes I had as an undergrad). I think I can attribute that to the course organizers/instructors setting a tone for engagement and approachability. I don’t know my students yet, but I hope that this turns out to also be because the students are keen and interested. We’ll find out!! I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m very excited about science communication, and education certainly is about communicating! As such, I predict that I will really enjoy a lot of it.

In other fun news, yesterday I met my first crinoid (phylum Echinodermata)! I don’t know what order this particular crinoid was part of, but it had a stem and arms (that it waved energetically in it’s tank). Most crinoids live attached to some substrate, but some have motile stages in their lives, like this feather star!

I don’t have a lot of background in marine biology, but I did take a tropical marine biology field course in my third year. Looking at this fun little echinoderm reminded me of the footage I had sitting around from that class, so I threw this video together!

I did my project on Parrotfish; I think we saw Princess, Stoplight and Queen Parrotfish (these photos were not taken by me).

Princess juvenile


Princess male (terminal)


Stoplight female


Stoplight male (terminal)


Queen female


And check out the Queen terminal male in the video!

Parrotfish are called “parrot” fish because of their beak-like mouths. They have a set of teeth (you can see them clearly in the Stoplight male photo above) that they use to scrape algae from coral reefs. You can see the terminal Queen in my video doing this. The reason I think Parrotfish are so cool is because they are sequential hermaphrodites; in most species juveniles start out female, and only the largest individual in a group is male. When the large male dies or is removed, the next largest individual turns into a male to fill the previous male’s flippers.

Unfortunately that’s not what I was studying there. Actually, the whole plan for surveying them went pretty awry. We (my partner and I) were searching for them at dawn, midday, and dusk, at shallow, moderate, and deep portions of the reef. Unfortunately there would frequently be none visible at all. Or any other fish for that matter. The week that we were there was during a stormy time of year, and the water was really turbulent. A few times we planned to go out to observe, and just could not because it was too dangerous to go out in the water. I know I got some bruises and scraped by being thrown against the reef. Thank goodness there was no fire coral! In the end we wrote our papers about the (significant) negative relationship we found between current & wave strength, and the presence of fish. The stronger the current, the fewer fish there were. It wasn’t what we were hoping for, and it wasn’t ideal, but sometimes research is like that! At least we got something.

It was a great experience, and Barbados is a beautiful, beautiful place. I’d love to go back!