Soy Bióloga

Soy bióloga. I am a biologist. That is what I would always say when introducing myself while working in the Peace Corps in Peru. I had left my undergraduate university with a degree in marine biology and Spanish and was going to use that knowledge to benefit developing communities. It didn’t take me long to realize, however, that, while I could identify any fish given a dichotomous key, I lacked the theory and practice to turn scientific knowledge in to personal and community action. I returned to school for my master’s degree in the Marine Resource Management program at Oregon State University to learn about one of the major species in all ecosystems – humans.

Soy sociólogo. I am a sociologist. Since embarking on my graduate degree, I have felt more like a sociologist than a biologist. My coursework has kept me grounded in the natural sciences with introductions to physical oceanography, geology, and biogeochemistry and up to date on my biology in courses like wetland ecology and restoration. But it has also given me insight in to human communities, behavior, and communication with natural resources and community values, marine economics, environmental sociology, and communication and the practice of science courses. I have been learning methods to study human behavior and values in my qualitative research methods course and developing my thesis project protocol.

This fall, I advanced my plan to study how university natural scientists collaborate with non-academics in resource management, user, and policymaker positions. I will be using Willamette Water 2100 (WW2100), a five-year long freshwater modeling effort funded by the National Science Foundation, as a case study for the process of how university researchers work with community “stakeholders” on a long-term and complex investigation of future water availability in the Willamette River Basin ( I realized that I was most interested in the experiences and perspectives of the participants in this process and that if I wanted to find out what people thought about the process of working together, I would have to ask them. And that is where this term’s challenge began.

I am a biologist. When I want to study something, I study it. Plants do not require that you ask their permission to study them. Nor do animals, really. Sure, you may have to get past the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of your academic institution if you want to study chordates (animals with a notochord), but really, there isn’t much to it.

I am a sociologist. This term, I learned what is required to study people. Each university is home to an Institutional Review Board (IRB) whichreviews your proposed human research. They must grant approval before you can proceed with your study. This term I spent weeks preparing my application for IRB approval – meticulously outlining the protocol details of my study, outlining the speech I would give to recruit my would-be subjects, detailing the way in which I would obtain and document their informed consent, drafting a survey they will take months from now, scripting the themes I will use to guide future interviews, and constantly ensuring that the data – their words – will be stored in a safe space for the correct amount of time. Based on the scope of my study, it was accepted for express review, one of the IRB’s reviewing categories, and within fifteen minutes of this meeting, my study was approved. With IRB’s blessing, I can now proceed to ask the WW2100 participants (my subjects) about their experiences and I will begin doing so as soon as the new year begins.

This term, more than others, I am so glad to be a student of the Marine Resource Management program and an Oregon Sea Grant Scholar. Both institutions understand the importance and value of the natural sciences and the social sciences. Through opening doors to conferences such as the State of the Coast (in Florence, OR, where I attended and presented in October), and hosting communication workshops (such as the one I attended in November), these institutions are teaching me how to combine the biology and the sociology. Soon I will be able to simply and confidently say: I am a scientist. Soy científica.

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About Laura Ferguson

I am a student in the Marine Resource Management M.S. program at Oregon State University. I earned a B.S. in marine biology and B.A. in Spanish from the College of Charleston (Charleston, SC) and served two years in the Peace Corps in Peru as a community-based environmental management volunteer. These experiences formed my current interests in responsible resources use and conservation, scientific outreach and engagement, and marine and aquatic ecosystem dynamics, including one of their most influential species, humans.

One thought on “Soy Bióloga

  1. Nicely written. Being able to understand and integrate the social and physical sciences is a very useful skill, I think.

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