When I am asked if I think I can change the world with research and if research is still valuable, I automatically think back to my field work and research in New Zealand. We were assigned a field exercise that required us to map out land use around and vegetation within an estuary. All of us experienced a bit of frustration while doing this, especially the non-ecologists among us (*cough* me *cough*). Many of us became fed up with concentrating on the small details and started discarding them. We started relying on pre-existing data to make our maps instead of using the knowledge gained ourselves in the field. That's when our field leader said,
"How can you expect to make a map of the world if you're never in it?"
Granted, this woman has walked across three continents, so I willfully respect most insight that she has to give, but this quote has stuck with me. Field work is what will change the world, no matter who it is carried out by - anyone from a protester to an undergraduate researcher or a career professional. We need to be in the world in order to understand it. How can we publish something reliable if we have never placed ourselves in the center of the problem? What we're doing in Menomonie is immersing ourselves in the problem.
Unresolved issues at the local level are not isolated. By solving small problems like ours here in Menomonie, we are contributing to the world's knowledge bank that could provide valuable information to others with similar or connected problems. Even on a micro level, I have been able to apply my knowledge of sustainable land management gained through my research in New Zealand to the problem here in Menomonie. Two corners of the world with varying social, political, ecological, and cultural structures, but yet connections can be made readily because I have experienced both places up close rather than merely reading about them online. So, I'll be the first person to say in any conversation that I can change the world because as long as I can draw lines on a map connecting two places, I am bringing the world closer to synchronicity (I've also been called an overwhelming optimist, but I don't mind).