So here I sit, behind the table of The School for Field Studies booth at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) conference, looking at the small sampling of ecological research posters within my view; there are hundreds more in the vast room housing the poster session, and there have been hundreds more each day this week between 4:30 and 6:30 PM, showcasing the research of ecologists from all over the country and representing every realm of the discipline that I can imagine.
I am, at the end of the week that the ESA conference has spanned, exhausted and yet exhilarated. The experience has been eye-opening for me on a number of levels. As a newly-minted graduate of Vassar College, I’ve been trying to navigate the turbulent waters of post-grad life, figuring out what direction I want to go in within the world of ecology. My time with SFS has already given me the skill set and experiences that I needed to recognize my interest in field work; the myriad talks, conferences, workshops, and mixers that I’ve attended this week have also served me in good stead, revealing the many directions that it is possible to go in, be it ecological and environmental policy, science communication and education, or positions within government and environmental justice.
Presenting my research from my semester with SFS, and the subsequent data collection that my advisor and I undertook after I returned home, was another new and exciting experience. Standing next to my poster and fielding questions from ecologists and students, from curious onlookers who had never heard of a tree-kangaroo (the subject of my research in Australia’s wet tropics region) to experts who had conducted their Ph.D. work in Australia was not only stimulating but incredibly fun.
I seemed to have a voracious appetite for meeting ecologists from all walks of life, and was even more interested in picking their brains to discover the paths they had taken to get to their current positions. I heard from policy-makers, field researchers, professors, and more. I’d say my greatest, and at this point in my education the most valuable, discovery was that every person had arrived at their present state via a different and often-winding path. Some ecologists had been trained as neuroscientists, before deciding that environmental policy and outreach was where their passion truly lay. Others had used their careers to travel all over the world to do field research. Every one had something useful to tell me about my own future in ecology.
Having attended this conference, I now feel somehow confident in my still-wide range of interests. I had initially thought that hearing talks from all sorts of ecologists would help me narrow my focus; while this isn’t the case, and I am still passionate about a number of disciplines represented by the ESA, the back-stories that I gathered have given me hope that I can move around within ecology and link those passions on my own. I am sure that when I fly back home tomorrow, I’ll be leaving with a much greater understanding of the world of ecology. I owe a lot of that understanding to SFS, because without the tools I gathered on my journey in Australia, I would not only not be here, presenting my research, but also lacking the confidence to attend such a huge professional conference. Thanks to SFS, and the experience here at ESA that it allowed me to have, I am infinitely more comfortable in the ecological world.