Featuring our Graduating Seniors: Brendan Heitz



This is the first in a series featuring the 2016 OU graduates who are members of the Siler Lab.  In their own words, they will highlight the experiences they had with us as students, volunteers and/or employees. To read about past Siler Lab graduates, start here.



What is that? That is a question I asked myself as I contemplated taking the Herpetology course taught in the Spring of 2015 by my evolution professor, Dr. Cameron Siler. That is now the question I get asked, after spending a year and a half as a member of the Siler Lab, when I tell anyone what my research experience was in.

After taking Dr. Siler’s evolution course (BIOL 2013), I was convinced by a fun-loving professor who was able to teach the material while making the class laugh (often by making fun of himself), to give his next course, Herpetology (BIOL 4083), a chance as an upper-division biology credit.

This course was rigorous, having to learn to identify preserved specimens of ALL the herps (reptiles and amphibians) found in Oklahoma. When the course began, all frogs looked the same, and the snakes stood no chance of being learned. However, as the course went on that changed and slowly I began to actually enjoy learning about these specimens and herps in general. Given the opportunity to help write an actual research paper to be submitted for publication wound up just being the icing on the cake for a course that really opened my eyes to new horizons.

Where this course really set itself apart was the field trips we took. Not only was our Friday lab period spent with a few local trips (Sutton Wilderness Park, Lake Thunderbird) but students in the class were given the opportunity to join the lab in trips to southeast Oklahoma for ODWC grant work. It was on one of these trips I was sold, and from then on I planned to ask Dr. Siler if I could do my honors reading/research under his guidance.

I began officially serving the Siler Lab as a volunteer in Summer 2015, as I focused on my honors reading, and filtering all the eDNA samples collected that field season. As the fall semester started, I continued my time as a volunteer, but also was enrolled in honors research and began to brainstorm what I could do for this project. The semester went on, I continued doing a multitude of activities in lab, and began to grow closer to other members of the lab, a group I am very happy to call friends. My time as a volunteer continued in Spring 2016, but my time began to shift more and more to focusing on my honors thesis, borne out of the research, and my remaining requirements for graduation.

I enrolled in a course called BioWriting (BIOL 4953), knowing I needed to have a fully written thesis by semesters end, as a way to keep myself on track as the semester got crazier. This course, along with many hours spent in lab, culminated in my completion of an honors thesis paper, a new species description, that was not only ready for submission to the honors college, but also submitted to a journal for peer review and publication. This final product would not have been possible without the help of many people, but it taught me many things about project management, effective use of communication channels (by mouth, email, text), and the idea of making some sort of progress EVERY single day.

While the above summarizes what I did, it really speaks nothing to who helped me get things done. None of my time in lab would have been possible without the roles played by many people, either via their guidance, support, or just being a member of the lab, and I want to each of those people, and how they make the Siler Lab so special!  From ]full-time staff members to the undergraduate students to those who are in and out with the lab. I have greatly enjoyed my time in the lab, will very much miss everyone, and look forward to when I can make it back to Norman and go out in the field!

As for my future. Currently it does not involve herpetology, but I am actually headed to Chapel Hill, NC to begin my two-year masters program with the UNC Sports Administration program. Following grad school, I plan to seek a job with a collegiate athletics department, preferably in Event Management. The ultimate goal is to climb the ladder to a senior leadership position where I can positively impact the lives of student-athletes, the university community, and all those who associate as fans!

Until then…

by Brendan Heitz

Click here to continue the 2016 OU/Siler Lab graduates blog series.