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Michelle Spicer Trains Student Mentees in Tree Climbing Safety to Help in Research Work | #schoolsaftey

Ph.D. student Naomi Miller also practiced their skills. They said the tree climbing experience is very technical as one considers their foot and hand placement on the ropes. 

“It’s very strenuous, because you’re taking all of your body weight and putting [the weight on] one leg, and trying at the same time to reach up and get as high as you can to gain as much vertical distance,” Miller said. 

While they are currently working on a research proposal that doesn’t include many climbing opportunities, Miller said Spicer will conduct research in Washington over the summer to further study epiphytes. Overall lab research right now includes inspecting previously collected plant specimens, identifying rare plants, and lab work in which plants and microbes are identified with molecular methods.  

Throughout the research process, Spicer said she conveys to students the importance of contextualizing the research.

“I make sure to sort of share some insights, and I want my mentees to think about what is the impact that their research is having—maybe it’s on local communities,” Spicer said. “I do try to challenge my students to think about, sort of, the ethics of research.” 

Spicer graduated from the Lehigh IDEAS program in 2012, with concentrations in chemical engineering and environmental sustainability with a minor in Spanish. Her lab focuses on understanding and maintaining forest diversity. She received her master’s from Lehigh in 2014 in earth and environmental sciences. She went on to get her doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh in biological science, with a graduate certificate in Latin American Studies.

Spicer’s interest in Latin America biodiversity was sparked on a study abroad trip in Costa Rica during her undergraduate education. She was able to delve deeper into the subject and began epiphyte research in Panama during her Ph.D. studies in 2017.

“I think it’s only responsible to be able to have some sort of knowledge about countries that you’re working in, especially if they’re not your home country,” said Spicer. “And so I am bilingual, I can speak in Spanish mostly from learning from a relatively young age in school and then continuing to develop those skills in my research and personal life.”

Spicer said she’s prioritized working alongside Panamanian collaborators throughout her research. 

“It’s such a richer experience to be able to talk with people and learn from everybody that is around me,” Spicer said.

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