Elon College Fellows

Monica Poteat '10

On the scarcity of red spruce (Picea rubens) and Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) in the beech gaps of Great Smoky Mountains National Park 

I graduated from Elon in 2010 with a degree in biology. By senior year, I knew I wanted to study how humans were affecting the environment and how we could lessen our impact. I was accepted into the graduate program in environmental toxicology at North Car-olina State University during spring semester of my senior year, and immediately began lab work upon my Elon graduation. 

In 2014, I obtained my doctorate degree and am currently a postdoctoral research associate in the Environmental Sciences Divi-sion of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I primarily work to understand how contaminants (particularly mercury) bioaccumulate in the food webs of stream ecosystems. Hopefully, understanding how mercury moves through the food web will lead to ideas of how we can mitigate mercury bioaccumulation in fish, and ultimately reduce human exposure. As a postdoc, I work with a great team of scientists, technicians and students to design and conduct field and laboratory experi-ments, analyze data and publish meaningful results which can influence environmental policy. I love the interdisciplinary nature of my work, and love that my workspaces include the field, the lab and my office. 

In my current job as a research scientist, the ability to ask interesting questions is incredibly im-portant. During ECF classes at Elon, I remember struggling with that idea—it wasn’t something that came easily to me. I remember asking myself, “Haven’t all the good questions already been taken?” It took me years to figure out, but they haven’t, not by a long shot. Asking interesting questions is such a large part of what I do now: It’s how you procure grant money, publish pa-pers and in general, just get people in-terested in what interests you. If you can’t ask interesting questions to ap-peal to a wide range of folks, no one will care about what you are doing, and no one will give you money to do it. When at Elon, I never knew how important this philosophy would be-come in my life. 

Looking back, Elon and the Elon College Fellows program prepared me exceptionally well for graduate school. Graduate school is a stressful time for anyone—between taking classes, teaching classes, working in the laboratory, writing papers and grant proposals, studying for qualifying exams, writing a dissertation, and trying to squeeze in a personal/social life (whew!), there is a lot going on. Thanks to ECF, I was a step ahead of others in my program. I had already completed independent research, given poster and oral presentations, and was even able to publish in a peer-reviewed journal prior to grad school. Elon College Fellows, along with Elon, the Department of Biology and my ECF mentor, Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler, were definitely key parts in my success in graduate school, as well as my continued success as a postdoc. Overall, I’m very grateful for the experiences I had at Elon and in the ECF program.