Metcalf Memoirs: Cody Weinberger

Applying micro- and macro-scale biology to reveal taxonomic relationships.
Metcalf Collage
Photo by: 
Gordon Lew, College Visual Media Editor, Class of 2015
It is amazing that you can obtain such a clear picture of the past thousands of years from spending a few weeks essentially adding pieces of fungi to mixes and changing the temperature.

As the summer internship season kicks off, the College media team has gathered reflections from a few students in each UChicago Careers In... (UCI) program who held Jeff Metcalf internships this past summer. Here is what they had to say about their experiences.


Cody Weinberger, Class of 2015
Major: Mathematics and Biology
Primary UCI program: Science and Technology
Name of internship: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Internship location: London, England

Q: What attracted you to the Metcalf internship that you have been doing this summer?

A: What first jumped out at me was the institution—Kew Gardens is a place where a lot of leading conservation work is being done, and conservation is what really motivates my interest in ecology. Additionally, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out research in a laboratory setting rather than the math and computer modeling that I have been working on. Genetics is an interest of mine that I have had limited exposure to, and to commit a block of time to focus and try it out seemed like a good use of a summer. The third draw was that it was an opportunity to see and be a part of biological research abroad. I have always had an interest in living in Europe, and to work and live in a situation likely similar to what I would do if I decide to move there seemed like a good test-run.

Q: How does your major or other coursework at UChicago relate to the kind of work that you are doing for your Metcalf?

A: I am pursuing a specialization in Ecology and Evolution, but decided to take the more molecular courses in the regular biology fundamentals sequence in addition to the "Green Sequence." The internship at Kew has really drawn from course and lab work in both these tracks—most of my everyday lab work used techniques very similar to those in the genetics course, and required some background in DNA replication and other concepts that are taught there, as well. The overall goals of my project, though, aim to reveal taxonomic relationships among a family of fungi, a concept which is hammered away in the Biodiversity course. Understanding what it really is you're taking DNA from (fungi, in my case), the phylogenetic analysis, and what all of the results really mean in a broader sense really draws upon knowledge from an organismal and ecological perspective. Taking courses in both the micro- and macro-scale biological sciences has allowed me to connect a lot of the dots and grasp my project from all angles.

Photo courtesy of Cody Weinberger, Class of 2015

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of your Metcalf, and how have you dealt with or overcome that challenge?

A: You really have to be on your game all the time in the lab. It's so easy to forget where you are and pipette into the wrong well, and then you may have ruined a few weeks' worth of work. It's really a different kind of thinking than the theoretical ecology that I'm used to—I've had to learn to really keep my attention focused at all times.

Q: What is the most interesting, memorable, or unique experience/assignment you have had while working in the capacity of your Metcalf?

A: It's hard to say one thing in particular. I had to pick out my samples from the endless arrays of green boxes in the fungarium, the most diverse in the world, and flipped through tons of specimens taken from famous explorers and naturalists. It was pretty awesome to see samples that Darwin brought back himself.

Q: What is the most important lesson you have learned or the most rewarding experience you have had?

A: Being the first person to see the actual phylogenetic tree for an entire taxon was a very cool experience. The specimens had been collected by many naturalists and ecologists all over the world throughout the past century; seeing all of their efforts along with mine resolve all the contentions about how the species are related, with just a diagram popping up on my computer screen, was almost surreal. It is amazing that you can obtain such a clear picture of the past thousands of years from spending a few weeks essentially adding pieces of fungi to mixes and changing the temperature.

Q: In 140 characters or fewer, how would you sum up your Metcalf experience?

A: Walked in an ecologist. Walked out a mycologist. #RBGKew #plants #people #possibilities

Q: Is there anything else that you think would be particularly interesting or instructive to share?

A: It's easy to take all courses that are aimed directly at and give you very specialized knowledge of your interest. But especially as an undergraduate, I think it is much more advantageous to learn the fundamentals of what surrounds your field, so that you have the tools to approach problems in that field from a variety of angles. I have no doubt that the mix of experience in lower- and higher-level biology is what got me this Metcalf.

For more Metcalf reflections, check out the overview articleTo read the profiles that Career Advancement collects, click here.

UChicago Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (UCISTEM), a program of Career Advancement, "helps students explore, prepare for, and obtain careers in science and technology through career exploration workshops, treks, real-world experiential learning, research opportunities, internships, and one-on-one advising." UCISTEM offers Jeff Metcalf internships, which are paid, substantive internships exclusively for UChicago undergraduates. For more information, visit the Metcalf Internship Program website.

Metcalf Internships are available to College students throughout the academic year, and especially during the summer internship season. To learn more about currently posted Metcalf Internships, log into your Chicago Career Connection account to search for opportunities, and to make an appointment with a Career Advancement adviser.

Tagged: Science, biology, conservation, mathematics, Metcalf Internship, Metcalf Memoirs