Sunday, July 6, 2014

One Step at a Time

"Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have."    ~Margaret Mead

When asked if I could change the world as a young researcher, my first instinct was to say, “No, maybe in a few years…after graduate school and more years of experience.” But my experiences with researching speak otherwise.  Research has always appealed to me because the discoveries never end. There is always another angle, geographic location, cultural influence, etc. can influence a completely different story. And to me, the sharing of those stories through the collection and analysis of data is just the first step toward change. I do research because I want to see it make a tangible transformation in the way we interact with our environment.

Before beginning this REU, I understood research to be solidly fact-based, with observations that relied on numerical data and statistics. For instance, I spent a portion of my summer last year collecting data in the secondary forests of El Sur, Costa Rica in order to estimate the aboveground carbon storage of regenerating pastureland. Researching the carbon storage of regenerating land was important because of Costa Rica’s Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) program, which helps incentivize landowners to maintain and restore forests on their land. And during this past December, I researched the impacts of climate change on Rhode Island and other cities’ and states’ climate change legislation for the drafting of a comprehensive climate change bill that will be signed into law in the next upcoming weeks. Research is more than a paper summarizing results—it should help garner a deeper understanding of the world, and hopefully, instigate positive change.

From the left: Alison, Me, and Lauren clearly super excited about our research.

My understanding of research has shifted since I began the LAKES REU. I am working on ethnographic research and I am spending my time making observations at organizational meetings and giving interviews with key policy actors involved with affairs concerning Lake Menomin. I gave my first interview this week and I was blown away by how much work my interviewee and their team has been doing that, to me, wasn’t fully reflected in the plans and policy papers that I’ve been reading. I know that by collecting the stories and opinions of the policymakers involved in the Red Cedar Watershed and Lake Menomin we may be able to see trends and patterns that can help bring about a change in policymaking for the benefit of the lake. And though cleaning up the practices in Menomonie and Lake Menomin doesn’t exactly count as changing the world, every change made to the way that we use our environment is one step in the right direction. 

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