All work and no play makes you a dull girl… unless you’re an ecologist!

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After our nice, short break from work for three days in Monteverde it was time to hit the ground running. The first few days were spent acquainting ourselves with the huge compound known as La Selva Biological Station. It was so different from anywhere else we have been. The dining area was huge and you had to say your number at each meal so they would know you were actually paying to stay there. There were several different dorm areas and there were tons of other people that were at this site. Several of the people we met were students conducting research for the summer either for their own project or for someone else’s so we had the opportunity to sit with other researchers and learn about their work.

We also had lectures on creating a podcast and making videos with a story. And we made a short podcast on a topic of our choice, and a short 1 minute video in a day! Then the real work began. We split into our faculty project groups and started doing research, while filming it too so we could make an educational science video based on our project. My project involved working with bats, so the first night we set up mist nets and caught… bats! I was a little nervous working with bats, to be honest, but I quickly feel in love with them. They are so cute and delicate. The night we were catching bats was a lot of work. We started our day at 7:30 am and only had a chance to eat dinner at 11:30pm! It was a long day.

It was hard to film and do science, mostly because the videographer would make us do and redo actions to get the shot just right. Everyone was patient, but as the project wore on, it was harder and harder for us all stay happy. It was even harder for me to work on both the research and the video when our experiment was completely destroyed. I had been staying up late, getting up early, and then when the project failed it was really hard to stay positive. Our leaders kept telling us to hang in there, but it was tough to do with only 5 or 6 hours of sleep and all your waking moments spent working. We took a short break to watch the Costa Rica soccer game, but we missed the end because of too much work! We ended up having to redo our project the day we were supposed to present our findings and the day before our video was due. And in addition to all this work, two of our four group members had to go to the clinic for health issues, and one member dropped their computer and had to salvage all the data. We started calling ourselves “Murphy’s Law” because everything seemed to be going wrong.

After we gave our presentation, everyone was exhausted. We had pushed ourselves to the limit and then we were told we needed to work really hard on our videos to have them done the next day. Some people stayed up all night to work, but I definitely needed sleep. We spent the next day working exclusively on the video, and then after lunch Nate, half of Day’s Edge Productions, swooped in and saved the day! Between Nate’s help and our contributions, we somehow had an amazing product by the end of the day that was ready to present at the film festival! In fact, everyone’s video looked amazing.

We all celebrated that night in our own ways. Some people stayed up talking and dancing late into the night, but I went to bed early because the next day we had to start a new project, one that we would be doing individually! Sort of fitting because it was Independence Day… Luckily, one of my lab mates from Georgia happened to be at La Selva all summer and she offered to help me immensely with my individual project. She took me to town with her to get supplies (and bought me ice cream!), and then showed me how to work shrimp traps and went with me to all 6 of the study sites. She was really awesome and a total life saver! We had my project deployed by the end of the first day, and the next day I had caught some shrimp!

We all worked hard over the two days on our individual projects. Several people had to try 2 or 3 different ideas before they had usable data. It was crazy! Crazier than the week before, which I didn’t think was possible. On the day we were supposed to present our findings, it rained all day. And again, the rain ruined experiments. I was supposed to pick up my shrimp traps, but the streams were flooded and everything was underwater. So I had to take Carissa, the awesome graduate student who had been helping me all week, up on her offer to pick up the traps once the water went down.

Somehow we all presented without issues and then many of us stayed up all night writing up a paper for the project we had done earlier in the week. It was another long day. As I walked home from the classroom, exhausted from work and lack of sleep, I had some time to reflect on my time at La Selva. When I first arrived, I didn’t like it. It was crowded, muggy, buggy, and there were snakes everywhere. I saw a venomous snake in the middle of the path on day one. But slowly, La Selva won me over. I saw toucans for the first time, once I stopped watching the ground for snakes… There were capuchin monkeys and peccaries everywhere. We went up 40m into the canopy and watched macaws fly overhead. I got to ride a bike through the forest, and then pull myself on a cable across a river. I held and handfed a bat! La Selva truly is a playground for ecologists. I don’t think we have seen so much biodiversity at any other site. So in the end, I was a little sad to be leaving this magical place that was so full of life.

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