Portrait of Marissa sitting on grass smiling at camera

Making an impact through undergraduate research

December 16, 2021

Marissa Wright-LaGreca’s story

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science, Major in Biology degree last April, Marissa Wright-LaGreca immediately began working in the Centre for Shellfish Research.

She is researching the first 24 hours of shell development in Pacific oyster larvae, hoping to find out how growth is impacted by changing seawater conditions such as ocean acidification. The results of her project could help hatcheries select oysters that are more resilient to harsher ocean conditions.

One of the career options Marissa is considering is to work in shellfish aquaculture research because of its economic and cultural importance in British Columbia, and for the diversity in the work. Between 2020 and 2021, Marissa was awarded the Attariwala Science Award, a Mitacs Training Award, a VIU Reach Award and two Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA) from the National Science and Engineering Research Council. These awards helped pay for her tuition and research projects. The VIU Reach Award helped her attend and present her research at the National Shellfish Association (NSA) conference.

“During my undergraduate degree, I found it enormously beneficial to reach out to professors and get involved in student research,” she says. “The great part about VIU is that it is small enough that you can have direct contact with professors and large enough that there are many opportunities available. With the various funding opportunities available for undergraduate students, I think it is advantageous to participate in scientific research, even if you do not necessarily wish to pursue scientific research as a long-term career.”

Shellfish aquaculture research was not on Marissa’s radar prior to VIU, and she is surprised by how much she’s enjoying it.

“At the same time, I also found out what areas of research I am not interested in. I think an undergraduate degree is all about exploring different areas and finding your niche and, if you are in the sciences, research is a great way to do so,” she says. “Thanks to my experiences at VIU, I feel more prepared to start a graduate degree or enter the workforce. Both graduate schools and employers are looking for undergraduates with research experience.”

Why did you choose VIU?

I chose VIU because of its location, small size and its low tuition costs compared to other universities.

Any highlights you can share from your time here?

My highlights at VIU include being the first Peer-Supported Learning Leader for the organic chemistry course at VIU, taking ornithology at VIU (so much fun, I highly recommend) and my work at the Centre for Shellfish Research.

What are your hobbies?

Hobbies? I have forgotten what the word means ... only kidding. Although my hobbies are usually put on hold during the school year, I enjoy spending my free time with friends and family. As well, being raised in the cold regions of Northern Alberta, I love being outside and appreciating the BC climate! 

What did you like about working in the lab this summer?

I enjoyed my flexible schedule and the mix of work tasks that included lab, computer and field work. Additionally, I loved running my first larger-scale hatchery experiment at the Deep Bay Marine Station facility that involved breeding 16 Pacific oyster families.

What do you want to do for a career?

One of the careers I am considering is a career in scientific research, something that is directly applicable to my surroundings. I think this is particularly evident in science involving shellfish aquaculture because it has both economic and cultural importance in British Columbia. So far, one of my favourite parts of aquaculture research is the diversity of the types of work you can do. On any given day you could be working in the lab, on the computer, outdoors or in a hatchery setting. I hope that my future, long-term career has this same type of diversity because it keeps each day different and interesting.

Give us three random facts about yourself.

  1. During the summer I hiked the West Coast Trail with my dad and brother.
  2. I am distantly related to the astronaut Chris Hadfield.
  3. My last name, LaGreca, translates to “the Greek” in Italian.

What’s next for you?

In 2022 I will be pursuing a master’s in biology, so I have also been busy prepping for that. My master’s will be done remotely, with most of my research being conducted at VIU. My master’s will involve aquaculture research with a focus of combining and expanding upon the scientific techniques I have learned so far during my undergrad and research assistantship.

Woman crouches on the beach with shellfish in the foreground

“During my undergraduate degree, I found it enormously beneficial to reach out to professors and get involved in student research,” she says. “The great part about VIU is that it is small enough that you can have direct contact with professors and large enough that there are many opportunities available. With the various funding opportunities available for undergraduate students, I think it is advantageous to participate in scientific research, even if you do not necessarily wish to pursue scientific research as a long-term career.”

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