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Friday, June 29, 2018, by Brooklynn Davis
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    tldr: Harvard Forest REU has the perfect setup (no worries about housing, food, or having fun, they provide it all!) to give its students a true research experience, and experience is the most effective teacher. 

    So I just finished my first semester as a declared environmental science major. Before that I was pre-med (we all go through that phase, right?), and before that I was lifeguarding to pay my way through enjoying high school. Needless to say, other than a class called ​Intro to Environmental E​ngineering, coming into this REU program I had pretty much zero experience in ecology, plant biology, insects, data analysis, land use, and basically any kind of applied environmental science.

    My lack of experience is exactly why I wanted to come to the Harvard Forest. I knew it would give me some preliminary exposure to the process of interdisciplinary, hands-on environmental research and meet scientists working in the field. Plus, I was enchanted by yet another parallel between Harvard and Hogwarts (sorting students into houses, a giant fancy dining hall, AND a forest? Come on!!)

   Alas, the very first day proved to give me second thoughts. I was sooo intimidated by the other students! Many of them had plant and bug identification books (you read that right - plural book​s​) that they​ would read ​for fun. Whaaaaatt?! Others had already been through a couple years of environmental science, conducted their own research, and even mastered the mysterious “R” program everyone was talking about. I was honestly thinking I wasn’t cut out for a summer in the forest.  

    As we went through orientation and learned more about the structure of the program - how we are all assigned to different projects under professional researchers, how all of our day-to-day schedules would be very different, how we would all be proposing our individual project goals and expectations - I realized that there were other students like me, with different backgrounds or areas of study, and that our productivity wouldn’t depend on knowledge previously attained, but instead on creativity and work ethic. Basically, you get out of the program what what you put into the program.

    I felt much better after that. I made some goals for my summer, including learning some basic tree identification, basic programming commands in R, and gaining an understanding of experimental design and implementation by making my own experiment. Now we’re halfway through the program! I can attach a respiration chamber to a tree, I can use a Licor gashound, I can import data into R and make a graph, I can wrap copper coils around a tree, I can use a slingshot to get canopy leaf samples, I can strip wires, I can core a tree, I can remove a tick, I can kill a spider, I can put together pex piping, I can set up pressure sensors, I can stay awake for 48 hours of consecutive data collection, and I can design and implement a project examining soil respiration. 

    Pretty cool, huh? It turns out, environmental science is a combination of all the disciplines you can think of - math, chemistry, english, medicine, computer science, engineering, marketing, history, physics, even public speaking. I’m definitely not a master in any of those fields, but this summer has given me the opportunity to dabble in each of them; I’ve learned more than any one class could ever teach me! It has also given me the opportunity to meet others with similar passions and motives and investigate career possibilities. AND our weekends off give us ample free time to have fun and explore New England! Basically I’ve enjoyed the program so far and would recommend it highly to anyone out there reading this blog and considering applying. 

[On a walk-up tower examining phenology (aka pretending to fall).]

[Thinking hard as a tablet does all the hard work of recording soil respiration rates for me.]

[My set up and equipment for measuring soil respiration around a white pine tree.]

[A few of the trees we are "chilling" to near-freezing temperatures. For science.]

[No caption needed. SEE TIMESTAMP.]      [Rain or shine, it's respiration time.]     


Brooklynn is a rising Junior at Harvard studying Environmental Sciences and Engineering.