These last 4 weeks have been a wild ride – four projects, four papers (each with its own delightful series of revisions), four presentations, multiple multimedia projects, friends made, songs sang, beverages drank, van rides slept through… the list could go on. Despite the rapidly changing scenery, the fast-paced work schedule, and the constant evolution of ideas and revising of projects, there was a constant feature throughout – and I’m not talking about gallo pinto (though that was a constant presence). A prominent feature throughout was the feeling of constant transition. From strangers to friends (albeit strange friends), from scientists to storytellers (and better scientists), from excited to exhausted (and still excited, just less able to express it), we each underwent a series of personal, professional, physical, psychological, and whatever other p-word transitions that (I think/hope) we’ll carry with us for a while yet.
I don’t remember those first few days of awkward introductions. I missed them because cities are awful places full of people who steal your carry-on bag with your passport and every other valuable thing you own hours before your flight. It’s probably for the better that I missed those first few days – I hear Palo Verde is awful (this is a lie I tell myself to make myself feel better). I typically don’t go through that polite period when meeting new people, so it worked out that I skipped that part of the trip. When I finally met up with everyone, I seamlessly inserted myself into the established group dynamic with sarcasm and inappropriate commentary that may have been less acceptable those first few days. Making-a-flawless-and-socially-adept-retroactive-entry-into-an-established-group is my middle name. That’s also a lie. “Socially adept” is not a phrase that’s used in reference to anything in my life. Ever. Anyway. The last few weeks was a continuous transition from a random group of science nerd strangers to a well-oiled (and well-soiled) research conducting team. The fact that we’re all like-minded save-the-world biologist types probably sped the process up, as did the close-quarter habitation mandated by field station life (nothing brings people together like the unavoidable sounds and smells of tired and dirty humans existing in close proximity). I think I can speak for everyone when I say that the bonds (and smells) we made would only have gotten stronger with time, and real life sucks for ending our journey just as it felt like it was getting started.
I know I speak for everyone when I say that we all evolved into better scientists, whether we realize it yet or not. Whether it was designing research, conducting it, analyzing and writing about it, or communicating it in various ways, we all had ample opportunities to hone these skills. Maybe not ample enough in some cases – it’s going to take me more than a month (semester, year, lifetime) to master statistics (despite the excellent advice I received). Yea, we got better at the whole science shebang. But just as importantly, I think we go better at communicating it. The transition from scientist to storyteller is a fun one (shhh….let it happen) and critical in this time of limited public perception of what science is/does/means/#climatechangeisreal. Professionally, learning how to tell our science stories and relate our research to the bigger picture may be one of the biggest takeaways from this course. What’s the point of all the mud, sweat and tears (and grant writing, and paper editing, and staring at soul-sucking spreadsheets) if nothing changes? Shout out to our videography gurus Biff and Mo (who might’ve slept less than we did, which is impressive in a medically unsafe kind of way), PodMaster Ryan (what movie can’t you quote?), and our writing/life coaches Jane and Andréa for the endless (and incredibly – frustratingly? – thorough) edits. Grading papers is exhausting, and our instructors had an exhaustive supply of them, yet never failed to provide improvements and insight with every draft. Anyway, back to transitions.
So we’ve all become swell friends and evolved into black-belt research ninjas. In the meantime we’ve made a number of other transitions. From fresh and clean to filthy and mildewed (note to self: when visiting a wet tropical forest, bring a hair dryer. Your hair will still look like shit regardless, but your underwear might get a chance to dry, which is just divine). From wide-eyed and excited to listless and exhausted (maybe I wouldn’t be so tired if I wasn’t such a glutton and could handle sleeping through breakfast once or twice). From snapping photos of every peccary we saw to grimacing at their tangible stank without casting them a second glance (you can taste peccary on the air – it’s pungent stuff). From tenderly stepping along the path, carefully avoiding sleeping vipers, to blindly plowing through the jungle on a transect line (if it’s your time, it’s your time, right? There’s science to be done). From feeling shame about bodily noises and odors to feeling pride in bodily noises and odors (we’re all gross. The sooner we embrace it, the sooner we can transition into a new level of grossness. Together). **Sentimental music plays**
Living Pura Vida in Costa Rica…roughin’ it in the jungle. On our laptops. Constantly. Surrounded by snack refuse.
The list could go on. I think I said that already. But it’s true. It seemed insane how much work we had ahead of us and how much time we didn’t have to do it in. Now it seems insane how it ended so quickly, and how despite ourselves we busted all that work out in a (semi)timely fashion. Grad school will feel like a relaxed stroll through academia after a month with OTS. With all the work and the learning and the sciencing, I don’t think we realized all the changes we were undergoing all the while (mostly because we were too tired to notice much of anything). Back at home, reality has struck with a brutal swiftness. Transitioning from sunny skies and green rolling mountains of Costa Rica to the cold concrete and dirty snow of College Park was bad enough. Leaving all my new friends was worse. Having to wake up the next day and go to work instead of sleeping for three days was almost too much to bear. But I regret nothing. Mostly because I’m stubborn. Also because it was an epic science adventure that I hope I never recover from.
Handstand in Cuerici – there’s a beautiful vista behind those clouds. I swear. We hiked our faces off to to see it. Dang.