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L.I.F.E : Living In a Forest Ecosystem

Thursday, July 19, 2018, by Kyle Wyche
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It's 5am and the Sun rays are barely reaching over the horizon when you hear your mentor yell “IT’S A BEAR! GET TO THE CAR!!”

Now, research at the Harvard Forest can lead to some crazy experiences depending on what project you’re on, but don’t worry because if you don’t like bears, experiences like this one, which a fellow researcher of mine had, are quite rare. In fact, we have 2 weeks left and I haven’t seen a bear or a moose this entire time, but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed.

Research here can range from super-cooling trees, to computer science, to building a system for a tree to tweet about its growing habits on Twitter. Strange right? My research project this summer is focused on creating an automated system for a century-old red oak tree to tweet about its growing habits on twitter. 

     This four-part automated system diagramed above will (1) collect, (2) analyze, and (3) transfer data about its growing habits in the form of reader-friendly messages to twitter. When the project is complete later this year the handle for the public Twitter page will be @witnesstree. This project aims to simplify the transition of knowledge from the source of information to the general public without the intermediate aid of scientists. 

So what’s your research idea? I told you about mine in hopes of inspiring you to think creatively and let your imagination run wild when deciding upon possible research topics. Some of you will have projects that are directed towards your mentor’s project, but others of you will have a large amount of autonomy in choosing your research topic.

Career in research?? Hey if you realize a career in research is or is not for you that’s perfectly fine. One of the many benefits of spending my Summer here was that I had a close group of research mentors in various fields, and guest speakers to talk to about my career aspirations. It’s difficult trying to decide what I want to pursue as a career when there are endless opportunities to take. Sometimes it’s easier to realize what I don’t want to do and narrow my options from there. So if you happen to come to the forest and realize working on these types of projects are not for you that’s great. You’re one step closer to realizing what you enjoy and want to pursue as a career in life.

The food! 6am Friday morning and Tim Zima, our main chef, is already in the kitchen putting together an amazing breakfast for you. Dietary restrictions? Vegetarian? Vegan? Lactose Intolerant? Allergies? Don’t worry about it, Tim will take care of you. One thing for sure at the Harvard Forest is that you will not go hungry. There is always plenty of food to go around and on the weekends our refrigerators are full with leftovers. In fact, there is so much food that the administration advises against cooking for ourselves. Take my word for it, the food is going to be one of your favorite parts about the program and plenty of people can vouch for that.

So what’s your story? You will hopefully be surrounded by people from all over the world having different interests and bringing varying experiences with them. Talk to them, and who knows they may become your best friend or a life-long research partner. I’ve greatly appreciated the numerous conversations I’ve had with fellow students, mentors, administration, and the woods crew while being here. Everyone has a different life story to tell and you’ll be missing out if you don’t take the time to listen and share yours.

The Forest You’re here for 11weeks in a forest that has quite a lot of trails. Take advantage of the numerous hiking trails and sight seeing areas along the lake. Unfortunately, the Hemlock forest is under severe attack from the hemlock woolly adelgid and many of the trees are dying. Go and see that part of the forest before it disappears and is replaced by maples, oaks, and beech trees.


Weekend Trips Take advantage of the weekends! Have you ever been to Boston, Cape Cod, Maine, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, New Hampshire, or Vermont? If you have, then travel somewhere new, and if you haven’t, definitely take the time to go. During this program we have the privilege of requesting to use the Harvard vehicles for educational purposes within the New England states. Although, when using the cars remember that with privilege comes responsibility and that privilege can easily be taken away when not used properly.

My wishes for the future of this program

In the years to come I hope that the ethnic diversity within this program continues to grow. During my experience at the Harvard Forest I was the only person who identified as an African American male, and while I may have felt alone at times that doesn’t hinder me from accomplishing the goals I set my mind to. Of course I can only speak from my own perspective and you may not feel alone at all, but I hope that in time the field of ecology and this program will grow to attract more ethnically diverse groups of individuals.

Don’t blink or you’ll miss the summer! Time will move fast while here at the forest so enjoy yourself, make some great connections and take a walk or two (or three) along the numerous trails through the woods. Now, I am an outgoing, optimistic person who continuously cultivates positivity in my environment. Thus, my recap of this program will ultimately be different from yours based on our respective backgrounds, but I do hope that you have just as an enjoyable time here as I did. If you have any questions for me feel free to ask someone for my contact information and I’d be happy to share my experience with you.


Kyle is a rising Senior at University of Pittsburgh studying Ecology and Evolution.