Friday, July 14, 2017

Research Connections

Interdisciplinary research has turned me into a huge nerd... and I'm pretty okay with that. Not only am I curious about Ryleigh and I's own personal economic projects, but I'm super fascinated by what other students are working on this summer as well. Last Friday we assisted the sociology team (Elise and Sadie) in surveying farmers. Elise is studying farmers' practices based upon public policies and institutions that farmers interact with (i.e. the DNR). Sadie is also looking at farmer practices but is instead interested in the social connections that impact their business decisions. It was great to get away from the desk for a while and explore rural Wisconsin with them! Except for when the roads became increasingly confusing...whose idea was it to put fractions in street numbers?


I don’t really know what my ears look like. I know the shape from the front, I guess I know how they feel, but in a line-up of ears… I’m not positive I could pick out my own.  But I can close my eyes and picture the ears of my friends with no problem.  I see them from a different angle.  Our world is beautifully complex, and a place this rich and teeming with diversity will understandably demand a complex and open-minded pattern of thought to navigate the challenges. To gain a cohesive understanding, changing the viewing angle matters- for ears, for elephants, for science.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Science and Social Science

          So far I’ve spent a few days working on other students’ projects: two days with the biology team and one with sociology.  The two days I spent with the biology team consisted of helping them prepare for an experiment on plants that could potentially uptake phosphorus from polluted water. They eventually had to scrap that project, but they’re continuing with their second experiment on testing whether sediment can be used as an effective fertilizer. As I see it, both measures, if effective, could be novel ways of reducing nutrient loads in water. If they are, I wonder to what extent either practice is economically feasible. Sediment used in this way is a good analogy to what I’m studying this summer. Manure can be used as a fertilizer, and there’s evidence that it, if applied correctly, can improve soil quality and reduce runoff. But in some areas the high cost of transport for manure compels farmers to use commercial fertilizer instead. Is it possible that sediment use would run into a similar problem? And what can be done to mitigate those costs?

Save the World: With a Little Help From Your Friends

If there is one thing that I have learned to be true, it is that most problems need to be solved using an interdisciplinary approach. In fact, the reason I applied for the LAKES REU program is because of how interdisciplinary it is: economics, sociology, geography, biology and anthropology all working together to improve water quality in the Red Cedar Watershed. It is interesting how solitary all of these disciplines seem until you begin to tackle one project together. Elise and I are on the sociology team and have been administering a survey to farmers to learn more about their agricultural practices, values, and networks of how agricultural knowledge is shared in the area. However, a lot of this information needs more background. Luckily, a lot of my questions that naturally arise from this project can be answered by my peers. From the economics standpoint, how do farmers afford to transition from traditional practices to conservation agriculture? Biologically, how can phosphorus pollution be mitigated? Anthropologically, how do people remember water quality changing throughout the years? These, and MANY other questions are being explored by the diverse backgrounds on our team.

Biodogs (Title courtesy of Elise)

While doing research in the Anthropology group I’ve had the opportunity to interview a series of individuals as well as attend various community meetings. So far I’ve made good progress in developing my project, but I’ve also have had the chance to work with other groups on their plans. So far I’ve went and helped out both the biology and sociology team.

In one of the previous weeks I took an afternoon to go and help out the biology team carry equipment out to a designated location on the lake. I remember that I struggled a bit carrying the sets of supplies (as well as the plants they had selected for their research) and wondering why I didn’t pack any mosquito spray with me. When we got to the site we started putting together the set of plants in containers which would then be put on a raft that had already been constructed by the team. For me personally it was interesting to see some of the scientific research actually done in the lake and all of the factors that have to accounted for. It provided with clearer understand of what the process is when trying to figure out ways to correct the phosphorous situation. As an anthropologist my research doesn’t involve actually getting in the lake and doing what I would say as “hands on work.” Rather going out and details from the public or reading up on policies. However, tagging along with the biology team has helped understand certain regulations better as well as more knowledge about the ecology involving the lake.

Another time I went and spent the entire day surveying farms with the sociology team. Me and Elise Martinez partnered up and drove to different farms to hand out surveys pertaining to agricultural practices. I give props to the sociologist team for going out almost every day to hand out these surveys. When first hearing about conducting surveys it doesn’t seem that bad, but there’s a lot of work and effort into creating the surveys, traveling far distances to hand out the surveys, trying to deal with farm dogs (We saw a lot of them, but thankful they were pretty nice), not getting lost in some random parts of Wisconsin (which I’ve done myself when I got out and do my interview), and just being positive even if they get a rejection. From an anthropologist viewpoint it was interesting for me to go and give these survey and not trying to conduct interviews with the people I met. In all I think me and Elise gave good feedback to one another of what strategies we could both use when trying to talk to different individuals and how to get information more efficiently. I also will say having another person in the car with you is reassuring when you’re not the familiar with area because if you do get lost (which fortunately we didn’t, praise google maps) at least you have some company.

I had a lot of fun working with these different groups and learning more about their own projects and seeing how everything ends up connecting. I think it’s important to be able to see this phosphorous situation from different sides and evaluating who and what it affects. I look forward to helping out some of the other groups in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

LAKES REU Alumni Updates!

Each summer we ask LAKES REU students from years past to update us on what they're doing.  I gave them short notice this year, but even so we were able to hear back from many of them!  Want to know who's working for the Department of Transportation in D.C.?  How about who just started a job at Stanford University?  Or who just spent a year working in Nigeria?  Or who is starting her doctoral program in the fall?  Read on for these reports and much more!