Directed Research, commonly referred to as “DR,” is officially here! Exams have passed, with fewer casualties than expected, and we begin the last five weeks of our time here in Bocas. DR projects have us surveying mangroves, dock pilings, tropical rainforests and people which keeps us on our feet for most hours of the day.

But I’ll let you in on a secret: research is one of the best parts of studying here in Bocas with SFS. The biodiversity and diverse ecosystems offered in Panama are amazing to study and prevent us from ever being bored. Research allows you to dig deeper than the surface, no pun intended, and develop new skills and ideas. It allows you to learn about species and ecosystems in a hands-on manner. DR also gives us the freedom and opportunity to choose an area of interest while staying within a broader research topic explored by the SFS Center.

This is the first opportunity I have had that allows me to design my own project. Designing your own methods, preparing a budget, and reading literature on algal succession in freshwater lakes (my topic) is infinitely more interesting than a random project, because it’s my desire to study it. However, there are challenges that arise from designing your own project. In certain instances, methods that seem calculated and well-planned on paper ultimately fail in the field. Learning to adapt to certain scenarios such as bad weather, low tides, or a tangled transect is a constant here in Bocas and is part of becoming a scientist! For those of us studying dock pilings, a few students have also learned about the importance of steering clear of sharp oysters the hard way…

Despite these very minor setbacks, DR is proving to be one of the most valuable learning and growing experiences I have had in Bocas. While enormous amounts of coffee, food, and data will have to be consumed, I wouldn’t want to spend my last weeks here any other way.


Photos courtesy of Jorie Heilman

















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