For me, one of the most valuable aspects of a course like this one is how it pushes students to step out of their comfort zones to try new methods and explore new fields of study. When our course first started six weeks ago, I heard all about the research that my fellow students were conducting in their respective graduate programs. I was excited to work with so many people from diverse backgrounds and with expertise in different fields. But on a course like this one, no one managed to work on projects only within their field. Even though we all struggled with it, I loved watching the community ecologists conduct behavioral experiments and the vertebrate zoologists work with plants. Our course definitely encouraged this environment of exploration and even pushed us further beyond what most of us were initially comfortable with by implementing several projects focused solely on science communication.
I feel that one of the main ways in which I benefitted from this course was learning how to incorporate physiology and community ecology topics into my research. I consider myself a behavioral ecologist, but I had been hoping to find a direction for my dissertation that would broaden its scope to include other fields of research as well. After working on an FLP in La Selva focused on malaria infection in anoles, I started thinking of behavioral questions related to that system. Bringing together so many people with diverse backgrounds is really an amazing way to foster more creative and interesting research.
On a more personal level, I really appreciated the emphasis placed on exploring new interests, because it encouraged me to get excited about all kinds of new organisms and systems that I might not have thought much about if I was only working on a single project. Even though I never actually did a project on fungal ecology, I rediscovered my love for wild mushrooms and had a great time searching for all the coolest and most colorful mushrooms in the forest.