During my doctoral program, I mentored and gave many undergrads the chance to get lab or field experience. My advisor called them “The Army.” At one time, I had about 23 undergrads in my army, assisting and learning how to dissect alligator organs to examine them for parasites, then how to preserve and identify them so that slides can be deposited at a museum for vouchers. If it wasn’t for my army, I probably would still be in a PhD program at UCLA- they assisted me so much with running through hundreds of samples/year, and I am forever grateful for them!
I rarely had freshmen in my lab (for various reasons). But one day, some freshman “skater” girl with long hair, wearing her UCLA hat backwards comes into my lab and asks for me. She was very bubbly, and wanted to get some lab experience right away. I was a bit concerned having a freshman in my lab as I know my freshman year of college I was just getting use to the new way of life… and partying a lot as that’s what we did at UCSB! But I figured why not and told her all about the lab and figured out a lab schedule for her. That was the day I met Helen Sung.
Throughout the years, Helen went above and beyond the call of duty when it came to lab and field work. If I was Batman, she was my Robin; if I was Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda, she was my Luke Skywalker. I could always rely on Helen for everything, and when my last year or so of my PhD program got crazy, and I just needed to analyze data, write, etc., I could leave her in complete control of the lab, knowing she would make sure the work got done, and the work was done right. She’s traveled with me to Belize and Guatemala since 2013 to do field crocodile work- despite all the mosquitoes, nasty waters we waded in, or getting crocodile vomit all over her, she was game for anything. A hard-worker, intelligent, independent, a diligent worker- pretty much everything a mentor or advisor wants in a student.
But now is the time I must let Helen go… she has graduated from college and it’s time for her to expand her horizons. I hired her on as a Research Assistant for the last 3 months to help me with my research in Belize, but now it’s time for her to further her experiences with other scientists and other wildlife. I just hope I have given her a good foundation and experience to be a good scientist, and like any mentor, teacher and advisor, I hope she uses the tools I have bestowed on her to become a greater scientist and conservationist than I.
Thank you Helen Sung for all the wonderful memories, hard work, good laughs and special nights at Pedro’s Inn bar in Belize. I will never forget you, and it’s going to be hard to find someone to replace you. You are going to be excellent in whatever endeavor you choose. I am not only losing an amazing assistant, but am losing an amazing side-kick/friend. I will always be here for you as mentor and friend, and don’t you ever forget that!