While the Summer is Over, the Ticks Live On…Literally

Hi all,

I’m sorry it has taken me so long to write this. By the time I was ready to sit down and write this final post, I was already into the school year and everything started getting busy. With that said, this extra time has really given me the opportunity to sit back and contemplate what I gained from my summer work.

What I have come to realize is that this position has really helped prepare me for a career in research. Initially, I believed that this preparation would come from the actual summer work- gathering background information, designing the collection protocol, critically analyzing data, and determining if there is any real significance to the results.  While I do believe that this was all extremely important and supplemented my current knowledge of the scientific method, I gained something a lot more significant than this knowledge. I finally understand the importance of networking. While most would think that this is an obvious necessity to get job positions, in the field of research, it actually has an additional meaning. In general, scientific research is based on the pursuit of knowledge and challenging other’s ideas. Networking creates an ideal environment for sharing and discussing ideas and complications in your research.

I have been surprised by how useful it has been that my internship was associated with Brandeis University’s Heller School. This has allowed me to easily continue my research through the school year. I plan on writing a senior thesis utilizing the work I completed this summer. Professor Olson was kind enough to take on the responsibility of being my advisor. I still meet with him at least once a week to discuss where I should gather more background information and how I should be planning my final paper next year. In fact, we actually discussed a preliminary format for my final paper earlier today. Professor Olson has also really supported my efforts to start working in a lab that specializes in LATE PCR to analyze the ticks collected for different diseases. It’s actually scary, the ticks have been sitting in a refrigerator for well over 2 months and they’re still alive. This is actually very useful though since we are still in the planning phase.  Unfortunately, at this rate, I may not have the time to complete the lab portion of this project on my own. The good news is that there is another student interested in the project so the ticks will be tested eventually!

I have two last things I would like to mention, first is a piece of advice to future students looking for internships and the second is a warning. If you ever want to find an internship where you are working under a university faculty member, or anywhere really, don’t be afraid to contact them. If you can set up a face-to-face meeting with someone, this is ideal. When looking for an internship, you have nothing to lose when contacting someone; the worst that can happen is they say “no.” Do not get discouraged when looking for positions, it is an extremely competitive process but you will find a position! And now for the warning… beware of ticks. Besides the fact that I have to end my blogs with something about ticks, it is important to remember that they are extremely small (see below) and that you can very easily be bitten during the spring, summer and fall.

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-Adam Krebs ’14

One tick, two tick, three tick…Lyme!

Hi all,

I must say it’s been quite a busy summer. Almost all my time has been divided between fieldwork, reading journal articles and writing research proposals. I still find it amazing that I have actually met or indirectly know a majority of the scientists that wrote these articles.  The articles have been very helpful in getting a background in tick based research and different lab methods I could use for analyzing the ticks after I have finished collecting them in early August.

I must apologize though; I realized I never explained how we actually collect ticks during my last post. It is actually a pretty simple method; once all of the equipment is made it take only five steps to collect ticks. First, you take the flannel flag (A) and drag it behind you as you walk through the forest for 30 seconds. This time equates for approximately 15 meters. Once this is completed, you hold onto the upper corner of the flag to avoid getting any ticks on you. While holding the flag, you scan both sides and count all of the ticks on the flag; this is critical since it is more important to get a tick count than actually collecting the ticks. For the third step, you take the very fine tip tweezers (B), be careful not to poke yourself…it hurts, and you take each tick off and place it into a humidified vial (C). Next you record the total number of ticks collected during that sweep on an index card. After you have completed this process 25 times, you put a fine mesh (D) to allow airflow into the vials while being stored in a refrigerator.  It’s really incredible, using this technique over the last two months Professor Olson and I have collected over 1,100 ticks!


While I have had to deal with countless mosquito bites and fortunately only one tick bite, the real challenge has been learning how to apply the knowledge from my readings to writing memos. Through this summer I have had to write a memo to the Town of Weston describing the general concept behind the research. While this memo was easy to write, I really had to work on making a comprehensive research proposal/memo for the Town of Dover’s Lyme Disease Committee. Professor Olson and I have been working to create another long-term project that utilizes deer exclosures to analyze the effects of the absence of deer in an area. While this project started with an exclosure that was maybe 30 square meters, over the last few weeks it has expanded to potentially have several 5 acres exclosures. It has been both fascinating and rewarding seeing how this project has expanded and changed over the last few weeks.

Through this experience I have refined my ability to justify research while gaining support for it. This will be invaluable in the future since I will need to prepare many research proposals.


I hope everyone’s summer is going well,

– Adam Krebs ’14

Day 10 Without a Tick Incident

This summer I am conducting environmental research under the guidance of Professor Eric Olson at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management. The Heller School focuses on utilizing interdisciplinary research, with public engagement, to respond to an ever-changing society.

After several meetings with Professor Olson last semester, we created a project focusing on gathering baseline data of the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) nymph population within the town of Weston, Massachusetts. It is critical to collect this data now because Weston legalized deer hunting last July. One of the many justifications for this legislation was that by controlling the deer population, there should be a gradual decline in the tick population. Decreasing the tick population is important since this would reduce the instance of diseases like Lyme disease and Babesiosis.

In preparation for this research, Professor Olson and I traveled to the University of Rhode Island to meet with Dr. Thomas Mather, the Director of URI’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease and the TickEncounter Resource Center. Dr. Mather has been conducting tick based research and promoting tick-bite awareness for more than 20 years. His experience made him the ideal person to discuss our proposed research with. Beyond meeting with Professor Olson and me, Dr. Mather allowed us to be trained with the rest of his team. Under the guidance of Jason LaPorte, a research assistant at the TickEncounter Resource Center, Professor Olson and I were taught how to flag for ticks and how to keep the ticks that have been collected alive for later studies. This training has been invaluable and an incredible start to the summer.

Most people would think that field research would involve something like trekking through a tropical rainforest with huge backpacks of supplies. Or maybe, they think of a massive sailboat in the middle of the ocean with various pieces of large equipment for taking samples. I on the other hand, was shown that research could begin in a place as bizarre as a fabric store. Using these supplies, and the URI training, I was able to make the flags and vials for collecting ticks (see below).


Through this research, I hope to prepare myself for a career in environmental research. I have completed several other field research projects, though none have been quite as extensive as this research. Completing a project that spans multiple months will help me confirm that field research is a realistic career. Furthermore, I plan on applying my lab knowledge by processing the ticks for the diseases mentioned above. The prevalence of tick-borne illness is commonly debated; by testing the ticks collected (more than 200 have been collected in less then a week of field work), I will be able to make a more accurate estimation of the prevalence of diseases within Weston.  By combining field and lab techniques, the research will be more comprehensive and thorough.

For more information on Weston’s Deer Management Program, please visit: bit.ly/14z1pAg

I hope everyone’s summer is off to a great start.

– Adam Krebs ’14