Saturday, July 18, 2015

Different Methods, One Goal

Our goal here at the LAKES project is to make a dramatic change to the watershed over a long period of time, because there is no cure all for cleaning our lakes and rivers. Interdisciplinary research allows for us to understand all parts of the project and more overtly the problem. My different experiences in the program so far have left me with an understanding of all the different aspects of the lakes, rivers, political climate, volunteer willingness, and participation of local organizations. These experiences can be summed up to different methods to one greater goal.

The first interdisciplinary experience that I had in the program was doing transcriptions for the Anthropologists. I thought it was exciting, which is really weird, because I was sitting in front of a computer with a fancy stop and go foot pedal that allowed me to hear the interview at my pace. Needless to say, I spent the first twenty minutes just typing and didn't know what I was typing. So I went back and listened. The conversation was so intriguing and central to my own research that I took some side notes as to why there were  different experiences between farmers and county workers. Some of these statements have been central to my research on farmers and the establishment of farmer led councils.

How to Become a Well Rounded Person

Either in the work place, at school, or just in the real world it is very important to be a well rounded individual. You don't want to be all book smarts with no real life experiences, or vice versa. The reason being is that you can gain valuable information from books, just as you can from experiencing events in the world. The real world also teaches you how to socialize and build friendships, which can end up being used in the future for more information or just a way to just get away from the world.

I personally have tried to be well rounded by being the best student I can be, but also by having my hands in everything from Greek related events to making connections with the staff at my school, and now here at UW-Stout. Last week I was lucky enough to go out with the sociology group, in particular with Josh since we were able to split the groups because of my car. It was a nice experience to get back into the field, but this time not in the creeks or trapped in a cold lab. I enjoyed talking to the a fair amount of farmers, with one even letting us crank start his Model-T!! I learned a good bit from what the farmers had to say about their land, instead of learning about BMP (Best Management Practices) at my school. This knowledge is useful towards my project because we are looking at the phosphorous in creeks and its nice to hear from part of the source of phosphorous that I am studying this summer. Another thing I learned was that the Sociologists usually don't get the luck we did with catching farmers at the exact time before they went to another field or took a break. Normally from what I was told is that they just get turned down, which makes it hard to get data; something us Natural Science kids don't deal with because our biggest problem is weather. The other interdisciplinary activities I have gained is stuffing letters for surveys, which I have done with economists and Sociologists. It is long and hard work but its one of the ways that they can get data, and since they are shipping suitcases full of letters then I will be happy to help. Plus I have realized I am a letter packing machine!

From letter packing and interviewing to a cold lab and some creeks, this REU program has given me and will keep given me an experience that will allow me to keep rounding myself out and becoming a better and more educated person. I advise that everyone takes some part in an interdisciplinary life style at least once in their life.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Distant Cousins and Opposite Friends


I've come to realize Sociology and Anthropology are more of distant but close cousins. In talking to some sociology majors in my department, they were the first ones to explain this relationship, as distant cousins, between the two disciplines to me. Of course I wasn't pleased with their answer. I thought they were putting anthropology down for whatever reason and didn't want to be associated with it. But the more sociology classes I took, the more I saw the vast difference. In shadowing Yani and Josh, I think I've truly been able to come to terms with that difference. Even in fields that some might consider very similar, each still bring a different and unique perspective to the table.

Strength in Numbers

Some of us canvasing at Freedom Fest, Wakanda Park.

It has been a great experience learning what everyone in the LAKES REU program is doing this summer. Over the past two weeks I got the chance to work with Josh and Yanira, the sociologists, and Megan and Lisette, the economists. I also spend Friday mornings with the geochemists at journal club where we discuss primary literature that will help us to better understand the problem at hand by looking at studies done on situations similar to ours. With both the economists and the sociologists we got together and ate pizza and stuffed envelopes with surveys to send to farmers and other members of the community within the Red Cedar watershed. With Lisette and Megan we also attended Freedom Fest at Wakanda Park to canvas. It was a great opportunity to interact with community members and it is something I have never had the chance to do before. Yanira, Josh, Lisette and Megan also came out on the boat with Lanna and I and helped us with water sampling. The two methods of data collection for our projects could not be more different but we are all working toward the same goal, to clean the lake. Lanna and I, as biologists, are working to obtain data that can make a statement about the lake’s health, how it changes over the summer months, how cyanobacteria blooms develop and how all of this is influenced by the changing concentration of phosphorous. Though without the work of the social scientists the research would end with the natural scientists and we would be stuck. We need to know exactly who to give the information that we find to, how to best present it and ultimately propose a solution that is best for the entire community. It is crucial that we continue to work together because that is how real change will happen. Seeing how our projects come together to meet our goal had been a really meaningful part of this interdisciplinary experience.

Week 5: Interconnected and Informed

Over the course of the summer the 10 REU students have the opportunity to explore not only their own research topics, but also each of the the other 4 topics. I have had the privilege of working with the sociologists and the anthropologists so far and each has been a great experience. Getting the opportunity to see how a social scientist conducts their research, as someone in the natural sciences, has been an enlightening and enjoyable experience. For the anthropology group, I assisted in some of the transcribing process. This consisted of receiving an audio file of an interview and transcribing it verbatim to a word document. Our anthropologists have made clear that this is the most mundane and trivial of the work that they do, but for me it was right up my alley. Though it may have been repetitive for those who conducted the interview and already heard it, I had the ability to sit in on important discussions that were happening regarding the topics of land practices and water quality. Additionally, due to the precision needed for accurate transcriptions, I got to hear the conversation thoroughly enough to understand it deeply. If I was confused, I could just re-wind the recording and hear the exact phrasing or inflection a second or third time. Hearing the social side and policy work mentioned in this interview strengthened what I am learning about, because whatever our findings are will directly impact the potential phosphorus indices for local citizens or other land maintenance ordinances.
Though this transcribing task may have been simple, its implications are not. The complexity of environmental issues are almost impossible to view from a single perspective. Luckily, multiple and interconnected perspectives only helps to strengthen it as an issue because it offers stronger, more pervasive, and hopefully preventative solutions with so many minds tackling the issue in so many ways. Today, we had the opportunity to meet with the Young African Fellows, a group of 25 young leaders from a variety of African countries. These individuals in my discussion group kept emphasizing the strength of our research, the science behind it, the nature of people, and the global pervasiveness of environmental issues. Ultimately, with interdisciplinary work, as most of these individuals were businesspeople and entrepreneurs, we were able to connect, receive feedback and suggestions, and encouragement in how to move forward. They provided multiple contacts and references to move forward and get our findings out there to hopefully influence others in a variety of fields. Regardless of what the problem or work is, having the interdisciplinary perspective that this experience has provided is important and something to be valued in any field.

Week 5: Better Together

Working with the other disciplines has allowed me to see an important theme: we are better together. The scientific data is important in better understanding the problem and best solutions, but considering the social side of the problem is equally important. If people aren’t willing to make changes, then the science only leads to more knowledge. In reverse, if people are willing to make a change or use a solution, without scientific research, their efforts will go to waste, as they try to fix something they don’t understand. Thus, both the science and social sides of things are essential. They go hand-in-hand.

I recently had the chance to join the biologists to see how they collect data. I had a great time being out on the lake that we talk so much about, and they even let me drive the boat!

Working with a large group of students on a research project from multiple disciplines has helped me develop my leadership, communication, and critical thinking abilities. I have learned that leadership qualities exist in everyone of us. Whether you are the director of a project or an assistant in the field,  being leaders in research is being supportive and building each other up to empower yours and your peers' strengths in research. Communication is also vital in an interdisciplinary research approach. Including everyone's ideas and perspectives during the research processes is important to creating a well formed, inclusive, and impactful research project. Whether communication entails reaching out to your peers for help, or conveying difficult thought processes, communication is imperative to sustaining cohesive and lasting research results. 

Shameless Self-Promotion and Interdisciplinarity

Speaking with as little bias as possible, I think this program is really cool.  Honestly, much cooler than I was expecting.  I knew vaguely coming here that we would be studying phosphorous pollution in the lake and that there would be several teams of students of different disciplines.  I did not expect us to work so closely with the community or with each other though.

They let me drive! (yikes)
Last week the biologists were kind enough to let me and Megan follow them around and take up seats in their boat.  They taught us economists how to take water tests and explained to us why they were measuring certain variables.  All summer they have been carefully collecting data on two forms of phosphorus, ammonium and nitrate (forms of nitrogen), turbidity, and cholorphyll.  I learned that they use chlorophyll measurements as a way to monitor algae growth, and that they look at nitrogen as well as phosphorous to gain a better understanding of whether nitrogen runoff is also a contributing factor to the problem.

While I had a great time cruising around with the biologists (especially when Steve let me drive), I did not appreciate how important understanding their portion of the project was until I was canvassing that weekend.  Last Saturday Megan and I set up a table at the farmer's market to try to lure people over and get them to take our survey.  In the process of doing this we answered a lot of questions that were completely unrelated to economics.  The ultimate question that everyone is asking of course is, what is the solution?  It was important that we be able to explain what the biologists were doing and how this was leading to a better understanding of the problem which would ultimately lead to a solution.  We then had to explain the same thing about our own and the other groups' projects.  Having gone out on the water earlier that week with the biologists and participating a little in their project made me much more confident doing this.  What's cool about this project and working in this community is that it forces you to do this-- it forces you to think about the interdisciplinarity of this problem and to convey the importance of this to other people.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Scratch My Back and I'll Scratch Yours

Throughout the summer we have been participating and learning about each others project. For the anthropology, I not only learned how difficult it was to transcribe, but I also gained insight on implementing and regulating policy through transcribing. Transcribing allowed me to get a better sense from agency officials and their opinions by examining their tone of voice and length of statements. For economics, I was able to go out into the community gain qualitative data while handing out surveys. I distributed surveys on two occasions,  to local businesses and to community members. Qualitative data is important because it can give insight on why a respondent choose an answer, which can otherwise not interpreted without contact. I enjoyed handing out surveys because it gave me a better understanding on how passionate Menomonie is about cleaning up the lake. Last but not least, I also went out with biology team. It was one of my favorite experiences. I was nice going out on the boat to collect water samples and to get a break from being in the office. I learned how to measure the turbidity and amount of chlorophyll of water. Also, thanks to Steve I learned how to drive a boat! It was such a great experience. Each one of these projects are important to improving not only the water quality, but the quality of life surrounding the community. Working on other projects has given me the opportunity to see how this water quality problem cannot only be solved through one type of research, but through the collaboration of different studies and research. 

Looking from a different perpective!

While participating in the LAKES REU, I've developed a better method of creative thinking. Working on the Biology aspect of the project, sometimes you have to use different methods to come to a certain conclusion. For example, Bill and I were discussing my vision for my poster and what story did I want to portray to the viewers. There was no one answer, so I was able to think creatively and together we were able to come up with a vision that showed the importance of the project. Working in a interdisciplinary research project, we are able to mix together people from different fields of study in a way in which we could all generate breakthrough results. Today, I had the opportunity to shadow the economic portion of our research. It was refreshing to see the economic perspective of the project because its completely different from the Biology standpoint. During my time with Lisette, Megan and Chris, I was able to understand how they developed their question based on their targeted audience. I was also able to learn a little economic theory from Chris and how they used certain equations to log in their data. I also learned from listening to the economic group that it involves a lot of critical thinking. For instance, we were discussing which factors to use in order to determine people's willingness to volunteer. It was fun to pinpoint your ideas and use it to come up with the best strategy. I really enjoyed shadowing another's group project and viewing the research project from a different standpoint. Although our fields of study are completely different, you can see how they work hand- in- hand to generate the ultimate outcome.