Monday, December 27, 2010

Another crossroads

Here I am again at a crossroads at which I am supposed to pause and reflect. Look forward. Make plans....Progress report? Well. I have a degree. That’s new. It’ Honestly, I feel no different now that I have this piece of paper to “mark my accomplishments”. I think the accomplishments marked themselves.

It is not uncommon for people at this stage to consider grad school, and I have been surrounded by a frenzy of my comrades applying to this and that, writing and rewriting resumes, CVs, cover letters, and personal statements that in a couple concise pages “Focus on present and future, with references only to the most important and relevant experiences. Future aspirations should be somewhat specific, giving an indication of a goal and plans.” (as suggested by many advisory websites and by a professor of ours who graciously gave a daunting and sometimes bewildering 2 hour lecture on continuing in academia).

A little intimidated by my peer’s focus and apparent clarity, I wrote this “essay” even though I’ve resolved not to throw myself into grad school with little forethought as I did with undergrad. Just to sort things out, take stock of where I am, and you know, just see if my brain still works.

Personal “statement of purpose”:

I have been blessed to grow up surrounded by nature and science. I have always been encouraged to enjoy what the natural world has to offer, and to be observant and respectful of my environment. Many of the most formative experiences throughout my life have been in nature. It is no wonder that I have come to think of myself as a “naturalist”, a scientist, a conservationist and a marine biologist.

Research in Dr. Jacobs’ lab was one of my first glimpses into the world of academic sciences. During my time as an undergraduate research assistant, I was first exposed to research and publication. I gathered data, worked through troubleshooting, and collaborated with my advisors and peers; the process of the scientific method became more than a schoolroom exercise.

I was also happy to discover that my classes at UCLA were more than hypothetical drills. I enjoyed several classes that emphasized research going beyond simply generating data, and encouraged me to ask questions and synthesize ideas about my observations of the world.

One of my most important and influential experiences was my time spent abroad in Costa Rica. I attended the Monteverde Institute with a quarter-long Education Abroad program emphasizing tropical ecology and conservation biology. During this quarter I met amazing scientists who inspired me to be more observant and inquisitive about my surroundings daily. They demonstrated a true passion for learning, and an intense dedication to their fields of study. Most importantly, I was given a chance to explore field biology. Every day was spent hiking trails, wading rivers, or surveying farms and fields. I conducted my own research project from inception through completion. It was in the field—drenched, tired, dirty and bug-bitten, that my love of ecology truly blossomed. Interacting with nature, being hands-on and close-up put the tedium of data entry, and some time-confusion of data analysis and interpretation, into a context that excited and motivated me. Science made sense; it became more than an exercise and more than a process—working in the field made research more complete, with results that I could apply to my own experiences.

My time in Costa Rica also taught me some important lessons about myself. At UCLA I am a director and tutor for Project Literacy, a volunteer organization that brings tutors and mentors to inner-city communities in Los Angeles. I enjoy engaging students and collaborating with fellow directors to continuously improve this project. While in Costa Rica, I found myself bringing this role with me. I enjoy and crave collaboration and opportunities to share knowledge and inspire people to want to continue to learn. While doing my independent research in Costa Rica, I found myself looking for ways to involve my home-stay family; I would take the kids for walks and let them help me in the field, I would ask for my home-stay parents’ local expertise, and I focused on a topic that had potential implications that would directly affect my hosts as well as the local community.

Finally, my “Marine Biology Quarter” at UC Davis’ Bodega Bay Marine laboratory was the culmination of my scientific (indoctrination inception initiation?). Again I was challenged to approach the world inquisitively, to seek patterns and find mechanisms. As a part of a research team, I was challenged by my peers and instructors, and had an opportunity to share my knowledge as well. Our collaborations produced interesting research with potential for publication.

It is my goal to find a career that allows me to continue to grow as a naturalist, conservationist and marine biologist. I hope that as I continue to learn from my environment that I will be able to better serve it in return. I will always look at the world around me through an inquisitive lens, and as I continue to ask questions, perhaps I will learn to answer them too. I want to give as much as I receive from the world, and am ultimately dedicated to contributing to how we understand the world, and to passing on knowledge and love of nature.

...I'm hoping that I will be able to keep my brain from turning to mush in the meantime. And I've newly resolved to allow myself to keep my dreams in mind. A friend recently asked (I apparently only hang out with extremely motivated people that love to talk about the future) what I would be doing if I could do absolutely anything, if money and family were no consideration? I said that I'd be a writer and photographer for National Geographic. She looked as though she was expecting "professional ballerina" and instead heard "janitor". Her response was, "Well you could do that." And, well, sure, I guess I could. And thus I am resolved to keep such things in mind as I strategically takes steps down some road--which road that will be, we'll just have to wait and see. We'll call it a "reach" plan (just like applying to schools)....and being a janitor is a solid backup plan.