Apply for the summer Tropical Biology graduate course


Organization for Tropical Studies is currently accepting applications for the summer graduate Fundamentals course in tropical biology. We are excited to expand the course, continuing to place  a large emphasis on research and analysis skills, writing, and science communication. Spread the word, apply!




I almost quit science.


Before I left for Costa Rica, several OTS alumni told me this course would change my life. I smiled and nodded but hardly took their prophetic words to heart. I imagined them decades earlier as youthful, inexperienced graduate students entering the tropics and finding a study system that stumped them. I imagined them returning back to their universities full of enthusiasm, ready to embark on research journeys that would mold into phD dissertations and lifelong academic careers. In the last semester of my Masters degree, with plenty of research still to do, I felt their predictions were a bit off. I had already chosen my study system, collected my data, and was near the end of my research.  I figured as long as I saw some neat new critters and landscapes while in Costa Rica, I’d be more than content. No revelations expected.

I will admit that right before this course, my passion for ecological research was at an all time low.  I was worried about finding work outside academia.  I was scared of the commitments required of many field biologists- constant travel away from home, working countless and absurd hours, all at probably a less than satisfactory salary (hey, I like shoes, beer, and dining out, Ok?).  My career path began to strike me as unsuitable for settling down, starting a family, and committing to a lasting relationship- thoughts that seldom crossed my mind in my early and mid 20s. So right before I left for OTS, I started to think about alternative career options.

Well, here’s the good news.

Those alumni I told you about earlier- they were  right. This course has, in fact, likely altered my life trajectory. It reminded me why I love nature so damn much and of the happiness I feel inside while prancing in the woods, waking early for a glimpse of a bird, and wrangling a bat out of the net. I also asked many of the invited faculty and film crew questions about the relationships with their children, spouses/significant others, and how they feel about traveling so much. Their replies were almost always ” yes, it can get a little a rough at times.”  Some said  they bring their kids and spouses in the field with them, or make sure they never leave for more than two weeks at a time. Overall, however, their message was clear: it’s doable, and absolutely worth it. Their answers put me at ease.

So thank you OTS friends and staff, for reminding me why I chose this path, and OTS invited faculty for helping me see that I can stay on this path.  When things get hard, as I’m sure they will, I will think back to my OTS experience, and know that it will be more than enough to keep me shuffling along on my path, feet planted firmly.

Pura vida!

A tip of the (chef’s) hat to Romelio at Palo Verde


It’s been a week since I’ve returned from a month in Costa Rica in OTS’s Tropical Ecology course. As I try to get caught up on life at home, I still keep getting smacked by occasional waves of memories that I didn’t fully process at the time. The four am howler monkey “alarm clock”, two hours after I returned from mist-netting tropical bats at La Selva. The simple elegance of Sean’s hand-made flowers for his bee preference study at Cuericí. The look on Rolando’s face when his plate was piled high at Los Chespiritos. The easter bunny viciously attacking a downed Christmas tree in Andrew’s last two talks. On and on. Et cetera, et cetera. It’s going to take time to sort and process.

Before we all completely return to normal (like Kate’s leg did with time and antihistamines after a nasty reaction to an insect bite), I’d like to give one last shout out to the man in the white chef’s hat in the kitchen at Palo Verde. I can’t tell you how great it was to be greeted with a warm smile and plate of specially prepared gluten-free dinner that was set aside for me while I was out being stung by acacia ants in the hot sun. Thanks for always being friendly, for making such amazingly good food, for seeing our various food problems as a challenge rather than a pain in the ***, and for speaking to me like a small child so I could feel like I understand Spanish better than I really do. Thanks for giving us all a first-hand look at how to work really hard and take pride in what you do. Romelio, patron saint of gringos with food allergies, thanks for being so awesome.