I almost quit science.

Standard

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

Standard

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.

Image

Caterpillars do sleep! (and a few photos from our last day)

Standard

Its quiet. The students are either on their way home, already home, or decompressing on a beach somewhere in Costa Rica. Its strange that the course is done. Its 6:23pm and I am ready for a research talk at 7pm. I guess this feeling will pass and in a week (or maybe even just a few days), it will feel more distant. So while its still fresh, a few group photos to remember how much we all learned and how much fun we all had.

And a bonus video from Chelsea, Nick, and Sarah’s caterpillar project.

Where is jungle?

Standard

1

 

2

 

3

 

 

 

4

 

 

 

5

 

 

6

 

 

7

 

 

8

 

 

9

 

 

 

10

 

 

 

11

 

 

 

I don’t want to say more about this month.

I used to live in city.

This time, I got here to look for a jungle,

But, in the end,

I got much more than a jungle.

I got you guys.

 

Someone may think “Sean never dance and drink.”

In fact, in these days,

I never stopped dancing and drinking for even one second.

 

Thanks guys, thanks OTS, thanks jungle.

 

 

 

 

(By the way, who saw my slippers ?)

 

Lasting impressions of Cuerici

Standard

DSCN1513

The clouds racing across the azure sky and piling up against the mountains like whipped cream

The gentle, crinkly eyes of Don Carlos smiling out from under his hat

Waking up to bright sunlight illuminating the pile of pink woolen blankets on my bed

The smell of wood smoke seeping up through cracks in the wooden floorboards

Fog sliding down the mountain through three hundred year-old trees encrusted with mosses and ferns

An intrepid cinnamon-colored doggy tearing unafraid up the mountain

Soft pink endangered moss forming soggy pillows in the treeless paramo.

…when you’re having fun

Standard

In the last 4 weeks, as we’ve come further and further south in Costa Rica, it has felt a bit like rolling faster and faster down a science hill, gathering speed and skills along the way. Now very suddenly, the course is in its final days and we’ll soon be coasting to a stop. Today the students are wrapping up their 5th and final research project of the course, and they will present the results after dinner. There is also a faint buzz in the air from the drafts of various research reports being emailed back and forth between coordinators and students, and you can almost smell the learning happening there. Stress levels are up, and crunch time is now. I imagine it will be released this evening, as some festivities are brewing along with the Spanish OTS Grad Course that is here at the same time. Tomorrow morning we will head back north on the bus to San Jose for a final dinner and the completion of the course. It has been a truly enjoyable and educational ride, getting to know this group of 18 students. Its been wonderful to relive my own OTS grad course experience from the other side, and also to push myself and help Jane to push the course into themes and activities where we’ve never gone before. I’m crossing my fingers for a few final wildlife sightings before ending this month of station life and before the coming goodbye hugs of the unforgettable students from 14-1.