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3 lessons REU taught me

Friday, June 21, 2013, by Christine Pardo
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When I made my way from Florida to Massachusetts this past May, I made the awesome realization that I was living in Peters-HAM and not Peter-SHAM. I had been saying that wrong since February. Since then, I have learned far more at Harvard Forest in just one month (besides the proper New England-style pronunciation of random small towns) than I can begin to explain. So I present to you three of the many lessons learned during my time here, which I hope provides some insight into the life and mind of an REU student researcher.

1. The Scientific Method may cause injuries.

And no, I don’t just mean headaches. My project is well known in these parts to use tools that have been described as “archaic”. For some background information, I am a part of a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) group project with three other students investigating the carbon sink at the Prospect Hill tract. My project specifically is looking at quantifying the belowground carbon stock in the form of soil carbon. So basically I play with dirt to find carbon. And in order to do that I use the following wrestling team of machinery at my disposal. In order of appearance are…

[The Quadrat Duo!] [The Extractor!]

[The Hammer Core!][The Mighty Knife!]





So one month down and one doctor’s visit later, I’ve earned more buff points as a soil scientist than I ever thought I would and possibly tendonitis. But the fun doesn’t stop there!

 Once I get my samples from the field, I get to spend hours processing them into what eventually looks nothing like a soil sample.

 [Soil from the field turns into…]  [Sieved soil in the lab that eventually becomes….]  [This tiny aluminum ball of ground up soil. It mocks me.]  











At the end of my day, whether my arms are sore, or I’m covered in soil from the field or lab (because let’s face it, I’m always covered in dirt), it is all a part of my project’s methods, and I take pride in the work that I do.

[For Science!] 

2. Graduate school is an option, but not the only option.

A few weeks ago our proctors organized a graduate school panel which allowed us to ask questions to three individuals at different levels of grad school experience. To quickly summarize the wealth of advice from that day, some of the take home messages were:  Applying to grad school requires good communication skills, personalized recommendation letters, and some research on the advisor or lab you are applying to. If you feel you are ready for the work and commitment of a PhD, go for it. If you don’t know, then don’t go. Taking a break to explore your options outside of academia may be a better option and one that might eventually lead to grad school. Use a backwards approach and see if the job you want in the end requires grad school experience.  Always try to get your own source of funding. And all in all, in the field of Ecology, passion is key. Personally, I am not quite ready yet for the plunge of grad school, but I hope to find part time work in ecological research and travel the world to experience new things. But when I do eventually go to grad school, I will be ready and I definitely have Harvard Forest to thank for that!

3. Work Hard, and Play Harder

I embrace the fact that I can call my “dirt work” a full time job. But when I’m not hiking through the forest or grinding soils (what I call the daily grind…see what I did there?) I am enjoying my time off to its fullest. And honestly, sometimes I need a science break. Our cohort has already had some awesome times together, and I have also had some epic adventures on my own. Below are just some of the snapshots from my favorite trips and memories so far, as there are already more planned ones to be had!

 [Our trip to Cambridge and the Harvard Museum of Natural History][Playing some volleyball at Crane Beach]




[My awesome group working hard in the field]

[Wandering around Harvard Pond with David Foster]













  [Our first time in Brooklyn to see The Postal Service]  [Myself at Central Park]

As I said earlier, I could for on for pages about the things I have learned while here a Harvard Forest. Luckily for me, there are still weeks left of this amazing program. Ultimately, what Harvard Forest has given me is a huge stepping stone towards my development as an aspiring Ecologist. Wherever I venture off to next, I will always have the memories of this summer to take with me and share with others. 

Christine Pardo

Quirky Q&A with Christine

What nocturnal animal would you be if you had to choose and why?

I would choose the Pangolin, because they are just wonderfully unique, totally adorable, and surprisingly enough are the one animal most threatened by bush meat hunting.

Why isn't 11 pronounced "onety-one"?

Because unfortunately the English language was not created by a member of Monty Python.

Have you ever donned a horrific hairdo?

I've bleached my hair totally blonde, and then dyed my hair neon orange. And I've also chopped off my entire head of hair to a pixie cut. 

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