Our team is currently on the 8th week of the PEREC OSCAR program. I’m very humbled to be a part of the team, especially upon learning how many had applied.
I am a student studying Environmental Science here at George Mason University and I joined the team because I wanted to gain more hands-on experience in my field of work. A few years ago, upon realizing I did not have as much passion when I started, I had decided to change my career path from Engineering to Environmental Science. Since then, I wanted to become an ecologist; I always enjoyed the outdoors even when I was a kid, and I always appreciated the big picture of how everyone has their own place in an ecosystem. Applying to the team was a no-brainer, I would get real-life career experience and even get paid to save for next semester!
Up to this point, our team had gone into the field multiple times to collect samples of various kinds, from invertebrates to fish to soil and water! After collecting these samples the next several weeks consisted of either being hunched over a sample tray to sift for invertebrates or hunched over a microscope to identify zooplankton and other invertebrates that I had collected. There can sometimes be thousands of creatures in my samples and is not uncommon for me to take several days with one sample.
I suppose the best way I could describe my time from the beginning of the program is “exciting confusion”. It seemed at the start none of the OSCAR students including myself knew exactly what we were doing or what our projects would be on.
I was terrified at first because I was worried about writing for this big project and not quite understanding the whys or how’s. Those fears were put to rest thanks to the counsel of Dr. Fowler and my various PEREC coworkers.
Since then I have had a lot of fun collecting data and samples in the field and learning from the graduate students and their projects.
Every day I know I have a long day ahead bending over a microscope and sifting for hours looking for invertebrates and zooplankton, and I don’t mind at all because I am building an experience like no other.
Each day I come in excited about what neat fact or situation will present itself with all of my coworkers to enjoy. I am enjoying my time here greatly so far and I hope that my experience here will be indicative of my time as a future ecologist.