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Sparks of joy: student researchers inspire and mentor their peers
Mentors in the Jelly Lab work with their mentees

“Jellyfish are one of the coolest animals because they're see-through and they look like lightbulbs with tentacles on them,” says Ellie Sohn '25. Her fascination with jellyfish began during an assignment in 9th grade biology, “It was a cool experience because I got to design my own experiment.”

This introduction inspired Ellie to join the Jelly Research Lab this year as a research team member. After applying and being accepted to the lab, one of Ellie’s first tasks was to learn the skills needed to care for the jellies.

According to Pressley Huie '26, another first-year research assistant, the work includes knowing “how to feed the jellies, how to make their food, and how to clean their tanks.”

Ellie says, “It was unreal because I hadn’t taken care of anything other than myself. Taking care of living organisms and being able to do that successfully is something that puts a smile on my face.”

Students new to the lab learn under the supportive guidance of mentors like Kat Zirn '24 and Silas Siebel '24, who are experienced Jelly Lab researchers. “We show them how to do things, and then let them try it on their own,” says Kat.

Silas, a mentor in the Jelly Lab, (left) and Ellie, a first-year research assistant,

LEFT: a jellyfish in Prep's lab. RIGHT: Silas, a mentor in the Jelly Lab, (left) and Ellie, a first-year research assistant, (right) review lab notes.

According to Silas, mentors also developed a curriculum, covering topics like jellyfish history, scientific literacy, and data analysis. As the mentees gain experience, mentors serve as a vital resource. Silas explains, "I help students who are doing research brainstorm ideas and make sure that their research is going smoothly.” Their goal is to prepare students to jump right into designing and leading research projects in the future.  

Ellie is grateful for the support she receives from her mentors. “They always stop and explain things if I don’t understand. I had never done a 12-page lab report before, so Kat was nice enough to outline the bare-bones structure for me. I worked that into a coherent methods and materials section.”  

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Pressley adds, “The mentors are very experienced and knowledgeable. It's always easy to go to them with questions.”  

Science Department Chair Ms. Laura Kaufman, who oversees and advises the Jelly Lab with Dr. David Herman and Ms. Kate Tucci-Share '07, observes that mentors bring a genuine interest to their role. She says, “Nearly everyone who had significant experience in the lab wanted to be a mentor. Their applications were touching. They talked about how much they enjoy working in the lab, how much they love getting to do science and work with their peers, and that they wanted to share that with others. They get to be leaders in something they love.”

Ms. Kaufman and Pressley Huie '26 share a laugh in the Jelly Lab.

Ms. Kaufman and Pressley Huie '26 share a laugh in the Jelly Lab.

Mentors share this sentiment. “Research was fun, but at the same time, I want to teach other people how to do research and not just take up all that space for myself,” says Silas. "I see my younger self in some of the [mentees]. It’s great to be able to show them how fun and entertaining science can be.”

Ellie feels invigorated by her mentor-led experience this year. "The example that [Silas & Kat] set sparked my interest in acting as a mentor for younger students next year,” she says. “I feel like a junior scientist, like someone who has a lot of knowledge and can think of their own experiments. I’ve learned that it's not the end of the world if something goes wrong because you can always fix it and do it again. I definitely want to try a more complex experiment next year. I'm going to be brainstorming a lot of ideas about jellyfish and researching about them over the summer.”