The most valuable lesson I learned (or, should I say, remembered) on my OTS course

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I have a personality type that tends to succumb to an unfortunate condition: stress. Throughout my schooling I excelled in nearly everything that I did. Not to say that I didn’t work hard, but I always seemed to have a natural knack for what I was doing. This lack of failure I experienced and my tendency towards perfectionism (eek!) led to an unrealistic perspective of myself as a professional.

Graduate school is hard. At the end of my first year, right before I came on the OTS course, I was feeling a little desperate. Despite having worked hard in my classes and on an “on-the-side” research project, I still hadn’t accomplished this looming goal: coming up with a solid dissertation project. Needless to say, it was a considerable source of stress. Enough so that I lost sight of the main reason that I wanted to be in graduate school.

Then came a two month whirlwind of colors, shapes, smells, textures, sounds, questions, curiosity and creativity. The OTS course is a mix between biology boot-camp and summer-camp. Boot-camp because we were busy learning from 0700 to 2200 hours everyday. Summer-camp because we were like giddy children, frolicking in our favorite jungle-gym, fascinated by every big tree and little insect. I learned a lot of valuable skills from the boot-camp side of the course that I will take with me as I continue in my studies: how to analyze data, give a good presentation, design experiments, and implement those experiments in challenging field conditions.

However, the most valuable lesson I take from this course is something that I always knew, something that I remembered while on the course. It is something that I felt while walking through the forests in total awe, something that I felt while setting up an experiment that involved 40 m pole cutters and 60 empty beer cans, and something that I even felt as I learned how to run statistics in R. It is something that was given as words-of-wisdom by the majority of our outstanding visiting faculty. It is simply this: science is FUN! We are biologists because, despite the long hours and low pay, nature is amazing and figuring out how it works is FUN. And most importantly, if it is not fun, don’t do it.

The first time I heard one of our visiting faculty say this, it really hit a bell. I DO think nature is amazing and I DO love the process of figuring out why and how nature works. I realize that I really need to work on my tendency to feel stressed and this notion of being a perfectionist – both are unnecessary and unrealistic. I leave this course feeling rejuvenated and more empowered than I did when I started the course. I know that there will be times ahead with lots of work, but I also know that as long as I remember to laugh and have fun with it, my time spent doing science will be well worth it.

PURA VIDA!

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