Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Put down your scissors

I remember when I was younger I really wanted to open a box that contained the ultimate in summer fun: a slip and slide. It was taped shut so being the logical young kid that I was I went and found a pair of scissors. I opened the scissors up, grabbed them around the middle, and started cutting open the box with one of the blades. Obviously this story doesn’t end very well for my hand. However, I did get the box open. It was just much more painful than it needed to be. If I had consulted with other people, perhaps ones who had opened a box before or who has access to a box cutter (you know the parental types), I might have found a better solution to my problem. Perhaps one that also allowed me to use the slip and slide on the same day. The same idea works in research. As a biologist I can see a lot of solution to numerous problems, but most of them would not work in reality. It might be because they cost too much or people are not motivated to make the necessary changes. The solution might exist but it is too painful to be viable. That is why we need collaboration across disciplines. It allows us to streamline our research more efficiently and effectively towards solutions that could work.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Interdisciplinary Research - A Practice in Finding More Doors to Bring People to the Table

As a student studying both Environmental Biology and Anthropology, I have spent my undergraduate years literally navigating between the natural and social sciences. I know the fastest route between the buildings is through Trombley Square and takes 4.5 minutes. I know that taking the back route around the library is a tad longer, but a safer bet for avoiding running into people I know who might make me more late to class than I already am.  I’ve walked door to door more times than I can count. However, this summer, I have learned to navigate interdisciplinary life in a less literal and more applied fashion, which thankfully doesn’t have me running across campus all day. It’s left me knowing that in research having a multidisciplinary lens leaves you with many doors to open and charges you with the task of finding out which path between them all is the approach you want to take to discover something new and invite people in.

New Skills

All my life, I have struggled being confident with conducting, displaying, and discussing my research. Even though I still have a long way to go in implementing this confidence, this research internship at the LAKES REU has without a doubt increased my confidence in my research abilities more than I could have ever hoped for. Not only has confidence in myself and in my research improved, but I have also learned about the importance of surveying in my research field, and how the order and phrasing of questions have a HUGE impact on how people answer the survey. It has been really interesting seeing how people respond to these surveys which has shown me two things: when conducting a survey, they need to come off as neutral as possible as to not scare possible participants away, and that I should never get my hopes up when receiving surveys back because the response rate is extremely disappointing (of the about 250 surveys we handed out, we got about 35 back).

The Study of Humans

Humans are complicated creatures and that is why I hardly interact with them. I can understand plants and animals interacting with the environment. I can even understand the relationship between humans and the environment. But when it comes to studying human nature and behavior, it all goes over my head.  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Jump right in, the water’s warm (ish)

This past weekend I had the opportunity to cross off one of my eagerly-awaited “bucket list” items which happened to be visiting and touching one of North America’s Great Lakes, Lake Superior.  Arguably, this particular water body turned out to be one of North America’s most superior and spectacular wonders indeed.  The most highly anticipated moment of the whole trip arrived when I had the opportunity to submerge my entire body in what I had dreaded was going to be the coldest water I had ever experienced in my life.

The Humanity Variable

It can be easy to lose oneself in numbers, trying to discover an answer or set of answers to analytical questions that could potentially carry great weight far beyond one project. This summer I've tried my best to not become completely immersed in data and data analysis even though they are fruitful efforts for which I possess a strong sense of enthusiasm. So far, the "head above water" approach seems to have done the trick, given that I've been able to keep track of the fine work that my LAKES colleagues have been engaging in. Seeing them in action, both directly and indirectly, has enabled me to fully appreciate the integration of multiple aspects towards a common goal in addition to molding my own mind into a more expansively inclined one. A collective, interdisciplinary approach now seems almost necessary to me for any economic endeavor, academic or not, because of how much every field has informed and influenced my thinking about policy analysis. Without their input, I doubt that the full breadth of our economic analysis would have been brought to light. 

Time and Mosquitos.

Having a project that is field work intensive had led me to learn lots of skills I didn’t know I would learn.  I have learned to walk through creeks of all different kinds. I have learned how to avoid large branches and jump over fallen trees. I’ve learned to accept mosquitos but to cover yourself as much as you can and spray every inch of remaining skin with bug spray because they’re ruthless and will bite your eyebrow, which is very annoying. Oh, and I’ve learned how to avoid the big ugly spiders that like to hangout in the trees. But, I’ve also learned that it takes a lot of patience and practice to be out several days a week in the heat surrounded by mosquitoes to obtain the information we want to ultimately present to the community yet fun and rewarding to do.

Academia is at its strongest when we all work together

Thirteen students from eleven different states studying in programs ranging from economics to environmental studies to anthropology to sociology came together this summer in perfect harmony. There is much beauty in the interwoven nature of the LAKES project. Since day one in Menomonie, our group focus was to interdisciplinarily study one common problem using six different approaches. Each group was equipped with an expert in his/her field who would guide their team in developing a research question to tackle phosphorus loading into the Red Cedar Watershed.

When a biologist is faced with a problem it is to be expected that the way he/she handles it will be much different than that of an economist. It is that very reason why interdisciplinary research is so vital. A scientist could find the magic key to solving the algal blooms here in Menomonie, but without the costs of this plan calculated nor the community’s support, the solution may never be implemented.

The biology team’s project this year revolves around the idea of recycling phosphorus from a phosphorus loaded system and posing it as a land-amendment rather than synthetic fertilizer application. In order for this idea to work, one must understand the whole story of the watershed, which is where the geography team comes in. This summer they are assessing stream health by testing numerous sites along Wilson Creek. Each site they measure water quality data as well as macroinvertebrate sampling coupled with the land use and buffers in the relative area. By collecting this data, they will be able to map the entire stream and directly relate the land use to stream health.