“Being in a professional environment and sharing your own research is a grounding experience. It’s so cool to see so many people interested in the same thing you are, and an awesome feeling to be somewhere where everyone is just as excited as you are about your research.”
This is how John Paul Dieffenthaller described attending and presenting at the Reef Futures Conference in December 2018 in Key Largo, Florida. Dieffenthaller, a senior biology major, presented a coral restoration project, an ongoing research project he and several others have been working on in the University of Dallas biology department.
Explaining that fifty percent of the world’s coral is dead, Dieffenthaller advocated that this decline is not something to be ignored. “The coral reef is so important, because it has many uses: medicine, food, and an essential part in marine life.” Dieffenthaller started doing research with Dr. Deanna Soper of UD’s biology department last summer. He and his co-researchers are looking at how to restore the coral reef’s former state through microfragmentation, a process used to accelerate coral growth, and are collecting data for a biochemical explanation for the success of this process.
On December 14, 2018, Dieffenthaller attended the Reef Futures Conference presented by the Reef Restoration Consortium. His poster presentation focused on the Hippo Growth Pathway in Orbicella faveolata, or a mountainous star coral, a critically-endangered species.
As he had never presented before to that big of an audience, Dieffenthaller expressed that he hadn’t known what to expect from the experience. “It was amazing. Seeing that this subject is being investigated worldwide, making those connections, and getting to talk with coral reef experts taught me so many different things. It helped provide direction on where to take our project in the future.”
Dieffenthaller said that the perspective gained in the conference altered his group’s project in subtle ways. “We are looking at why microfragmentation works on a more specific, molecular level, rather than taking the broader perspective and measures like most approaches, like planting more coral.”
In terms of advice for those attending or considering attending a scientific conference, Dieffenthaller mentioned that it is very important to prepare in advance, and avoid last-minute preparation. If worried about how your research will be received and how much interest it will attract, he encouraged, “Don’t worry about people not being interested, because people will want to inquire. It felt natural, and after, you realize you’ve learned a lot.”
Dieffenthaller’s future plans include pursuing a Master’s degree in Education in order to teach biology and keep advocating for coral restoration.