You are here

Orientation and first week

Thursday, June 5, 2008
Printer-friendly version

Day 1

"Very exciting first day here I woke up early and went for a run before breakfast. After breakfast we had orientation all day. The morning was filled with an introduction to the forest history in the area (complete with a slideshow with the voiceover of a movie preview style narrator, so it was very dramatic and appropriate for the bits when they talked about the hurricane that came through in the 30's), and the overview of the program (including speeches about the importance/the big picture as well as personal ethics and our community here).

We also had a lovely overview about ticks and the volunteer tick research program (you count the number of ticks on you and where you were each day you come in and record it in their data sheets... essentially the purpose is to ensure we check ourselves very carefully for ticks when doing field work). We had our group picture after lunch and then went bushwhacking for about 4 hours in the woods-it was rainy but fun and interesting to say the least. We were orienteering through the woods to three separate stations on soils, dendrology (tree identification), and dendrochronology (tree coring and aging). It was fun to travel around on sort of a miniature wild goose chase, hunting for forest ecologists in the woods. :) I got to core a yellow birch; it didn't smell as strongly of wintergreen as I had hoped, so I guess I'll have to stick to the twigs (no pun intended) for that lovely aroma.

In the evening we had a community BBQ and I helped clean up after everyone had eaten their share. It was nice to get some time to relax and meet a few of the other researchers that I wouldn't really be working with this summer, and hear about their projects. I went to sleep early, exhausted from the day. Who knows what will happen tomorrow?"

Day 2
"I'm no liar-I'll put out the fire" was one theme from the morning-we continued orientation with health and safety training. Using the fire extinguisher was highly entertaining too. The hikes through the forest to check out the long-term research sites was also really neat- we even got the opportunity to climb the ominous blue staircase to heaven where the eddy flux equipment is. I must admit, high above the Hemlocks it was quite a view, even if I questioned my sanity as I climbed the tower while battling my fear of heights. It was nice to walk through the forest and see the landscape I'll be living in this summer."

"Something that's been hanging in the back of my mind ever since I got my project is that I don't really feel comfortable with the subject. By that I mean that I don't know anything about it. It's not that I don't find it fascinating; it's only that I've had very little exposure to this area of biology and don't have a 'feel' for how things work here. I'm being led around in the dark. I understood from the beginning that I would get some sort of independent research project along with helping my mentor with his project, but how and I supposed to formulate a coherent question about such an alien area of biology? Part of the answer is that by the end of the summer I'll understand it very well. And part of the answer is that the independent research project will not be something I create, but rather something that my mentor assures me is a fascinating question in the world of his subject. I trust that he is correct, but things turn back to the original dilemma: how do I take ownership of an independent project in a subject I don't understand, when even the research question is not something I know enough to ask?"

"My first impressions of the HF REU program have been great. The housing, food, and labs are all better than I expected, and the people - students, mentors, administrators - have been wonderful from the beginning. It has been just over a week since I arrived, not yet a week since I started working on my project, but I am already very comfortable living here in this household of 20 and have already learned a lot about the scientific background and methods of my project. My mentors are often in and out but they are taking very good care of me, teaching me a lot and giving me plenty of room for independent thought and discovery. Today I was able to take a series of measurements to be continued tomorrow to test the time-sensitivity of one of our methods: how long after samples are collected can we trust our measurement of water conductance through plant tissue? This will be relevant to how we collect data the rest of the summer, I am doing it these two days all by myself, I feel like I can actually do it, and I understand more or less what I am doing. So although I know that this summer will no doubt have its rough patches, I am very much looking forward to continuing this interesting and useful work and getting to better know all of my friends, colleagues, and mentors"