Valerie May holds a beaker full of waste water and carefully checks its contents against that of regular water.
Seems pretty mundane as far as scientific research is concerned - but as a student at Guelph University, it's the closest she's come to doing actual work in the field.
She and 15 other post-secondary students are wading hip-deep through muck, mud and a two-week program designed to give them first-hand experience in doing biology field work as part of a course offered via a partnership between the St. Lawrence River Institute and 14 Ontario universities.
The students have been studying toxicity levels in area lakes, rivers and streams to help determine how best to address the issue of environmental pollution.
And it's the first time many students - who are approaching the home stretch in their studies - have ever left the classroom or completed an experiment they didn't already know the answer to.
"This is hands-on experience," said May, one of three local students in the program. "Everything is basically in a classroom when you're at school.
"Now we're out in the field collecting samples as opposed to reading about it."
And they're getting one-on-one time with professors and industry professionals, instead of being just another face in a class that could measure more than 200.
"This course is really a 16-person group project," said Sean Phippen, a Queen's student from Cornwall also taking part in the two-week program which counts towards actually completing a full semester course. "It's really a lot of teamwork."
Peter Hodson, a Queen's professor helping to teach the course, termed it "getting their hands dirty."
He and Dr. Jeff Ridal, executive director of the St. Lawrence River Institute, agree taking students out of the classroom at this point in their studies is "critical" to their success after graduation.
"The most interesting thing is the students get motivated and enthusiastic about careers in this field," said Hodson.
Ridal suggested partnerships with St. Lawrence College, where the students use labs, and Lafleche Environmental where students got to examine waste and leachate treatment, provide more hands-on education.
"They're learning about the methods used in eco-toxicology," said Ridal, which is another way of saying students are learning about how waste permeates waterways and lakes. "These are methods used by government and conservation firms to regulate discharges and assess the impact of discharges."
The Ontario Universities Program in Field Biology is the seventh such partnership the river institute and college have entered into. Students will complete their two-week course next week - just in time to return to classes this fall.