Here at the ORCAA blog we try to bring you a glimpse into the everyday lives of our graduate students. Sometimes it’s really exciting and dramatic and involves cool technology, or going to interesting places with beautiful landscapes, or recording something new and important.
This is not one of those times.
Summer for many ecologically-based graduate students is a time for doing fieldwork, because the weather is (generally) better and you don’t have those pesky classes to get in the way. This is certainly true for many of my labmates, both in ORCAA and in the Garcia Lab, my other home. My fieldwork, on the other hand, is done in late winter-early spring, from the end of January until May.
The weather was not nice for the most part, and the water was still really cold, but that’s when my study species, the Pacific chorus frog, comes out of the trees and calls to find mates.
I love studying amphibians. I love how complex their life cycle is, and the way that they make excellent environmental indicators (unfortunately, this usually ends up badly for them), and the way that they constantly surprise me. I really enjoy going out into the field to work with these little guys, even if it’s cold and inconvenient sometimes.
What all this means is that I spend my summers thinking.
Don’t get me wrong, I do other things too. I help my labmates with their experiments. I write, and I take classes, and I analyze data. I even take vacations occasionally.
As a student in the College of Forestry, I had a slightly different experience from the rest of ORCAA’s students when I started. One thing that was talked about at our two-day, sleepover orientation at HJ Andrews Research Forest was the value of thinking. Not of writing down while you think, not of talking with others and thinking aloud; the value of simply sitting and turning things over in your brain.
I’ve taken this to heart this summer. For all the time I spend deep in the nuts and bolts of analysis, I try to take an equal amount and spend it thinking about what this is telling me. I let my mind wander over the scope of my project and beyond, to what other people have done and what it means in the context of my own work, and even unrelated ideas for future projects. I can pass a lot of time like this, musing on this or that, but it always ends up being valuable in one way or another.
Sometimes I write things down. Usually I don’t.
In an age of deadlines, where everything is regimented and production is the way we measure success, sitting and thinking can be hard to justify. It’s hard to measure the tangible product of thinking, the new connections between ideas forged. But if we’re not encouraged to do this as graduate students, when we’re supposed to be finding new and exciting things, how are we ever going to do it as professionals? As professors? As researchers?
You’d be hard-pressed to find a field where a few moments of quiet thinking wouldn’t help you somewhere down the line.
So while I still have deadlines and analysis and things to produce this summer, I’ll take my time about it and do a lot of thinking as well—I figure, if not now, then when?