Sunday, July 6, 2014

Lots of Facebook Likes

Like most individuals, I dream of changing the world. My mother loves to tell the story of when I was little and people would ask me what I wanted to do. I'd smile and say, "I want to make the world a better place." She would then prompt me further asking how and what I would do differently. Each time she'd say, "Well, the world is a big place and many people have tried to change it, what will make your effort different?" This really got me thinking. What was I going to do to change things? What about all the people that had "failed" before me? How was I going to have an impact?

I didn't and still don't know the answers to these questions but I do have an avenue to get to those answers: applied research. I've always been drawn to the process of research. It's always been exciting for me to be able to study a concept and apply what I've learned. Yet, I didn't understand the full extent of what research could do until I got to college. Learning at a higher level literally opened my eyes to the world. Through research, I was having all the questions I had or ever could have answered or at least addressed. But, research has taught me more then how to answer the questions, it's also taught me how to accept help from others.

So here we go again, on another nostalgic journey to my childhood. For one of my middle school FFA projects, our adviser was requiring that we did a little research project and presented our results at a regional competition. I immediately decided that I was going to study a couple local lakes that were literally a stone's throw away from our front yard. I was very excited. I started making a research agenda and wrote out all the questions I wanted to answer. Of course, I went to my mom for support and asked her what she thought of my plan. She took one look at my multiple page research agenda and said, "Cassie, this is a lot of work for a couple weeks, you might want to narrow it down a bit. I can help you if you want." Being the stubborn child I was I said no and was a little hurt that she didn't believe that my 12 year old self could understand hundreds of years of natural history within such a short time period. And, being a mom, of course she was right; it didn't take long before I was overwhelmed and felt defeated. Afterwards, we had a long discussion about how it was okay to accept help and that sometimes you literally cannot do everything on your own.

This experience taught me a lot about collaboration, especially when trying to change or understand things. I began to understand that I truly couldn't do it all by myself and that didn't make me any less intelligent or capable. Changing the world for the better matters just as much to me as it does to other people. Accepting help is as valuable a lesson as learning to give help. These lessons, when applied to research and changing the world are invaluable. Being able to collaborate a work with another individual doesn't just make researching easier, it also makes research more enjoyable. When I realized this lesson, my world opened up in so many new ways and I began to see that I really could change the world, I'd just need some help doing it.

So when asked if I think changing the world is possible and if research is still valuable, I have to say yes. Even if the world doesn't change on a worldwide scale, at least each of us as individuals has gained an experience by working with one another. And that's what changing the world is about: being able to live and work together, being able to love and care for one another, and most importantly, being able to respect each other as humans. Working on a research project you really care about accomplishes this and so much more.

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