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.