Conducting fieldwork in Puerto Rico has been an amazing and rewarding experience. This was my first time performing fieldwork, and the process allowed me to discover new aspects about both biological research and myself, as a learner.
I was able to experience, firsthand, that the scientific process of data collection requires much planning and attention to small details. For our project, a few weeks of planning were required before we could actually begin to collect gas samples. During this time, we determined that we would sample at locations on ridges, slopes, and valleys; we had to physically locate these sites within the forest plot. This was a long process, and at times, it seemed as if we would never start data collection. However, it was necessary to ensure we were sampling at suitable locations. Once data collection was finally underway, it was vital to make sure all procedures were consistent. This proved to be difficult when working in the field because there are factors, such as weather, that cannot be controlled. On some days, we could not go out and collect samples because the ground was too wet, and would skew results.
In addition to the scientific aspects, I also discovered how physically strenuous fieldwork can be. Getting to a specific data collection spot would sometimes require an hour-long hike in extreme humidity. I enjoyed this element, however, because in the end, it was very rewarding; I was able to observe the amazing environment around me. I had the opportunity to learn so much about tropical rainforests by simply spending so much time in one.
I was not only fortunate enough to gain knowledge of fieldwork, but also, I found that I grew in another unexpected way. By living at El Verde Field Station, I made life-long connections with others from all over the world. It was an amazing experience to be able to live with other students also interested in biological research. I now understand how important it is to connect and collaborate with others in the scientific community. Ideas were easily shared, and I even had the chance to assist others on their groundbreaking projects. It was from these other students that my understanding of the world of academia began to grow. Some fellow researchers were in graduate programs; they shared their insights into pursuing a career in STEM education. It was from them that I learned; the process is extremely difficult, yet rewarding. Working in the tropics only made me more passionate about wanting to share my knowledge with others, and to take on this challenge.
This trip has been incredible; I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience this research endeavor. Traveling to Puerto Rico and having the chance to work in the tropics was very gratifying. The process opened my eyes to the many possibilities on what biological research has to offer, which allowed me to make important connections with other aspiring scientists. I look forward to using my new knowledge and experience to contribute to my continuing journey in the field of biology.