As I enter my third month with the National Park Service, I have been reflecting a lot on how my three years at Brandeis have prepared me for this line of work. My work in the field has taught me a lot about what it means to be an environmental scientist. First and foremost, I have learned how different research is in the field as opposed to in a laboratory setting. Through my coursework at Brandeis, I have gained significant experience in a lab. A full year of lab work each for general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biology gave me lots of experience for the scientific work I am doing this summer and I plan on doing as a career. However, it did not prepare me for field work in some of the ways that I thought that it would.
For my work on the coasts of the Boston Harbor Islands to document wildlife, I am working closely with a PhD candidate from UMass Boston. Last week, she gave me an important piece of advice. She told me that field work is really nothing at all like lab work. In the lab, everything must be done with precision to ensure the best results. This sort of accuracy is much more difficult to achieve in the field, as a range of other factors can vary widely.
When going from the specificity of a sterile lab to climbing over rocks on a beach as the tide comes in, a lot of rules simply no longer apply. Laying out a straight line to best measure the shoreline is difficult when it is dotted with boulders. Certain species of encrusting algae growing on rocks look really similar to cyanobacteria, a type of marine bacteria. When time is of the essence, you often have to make do with the best you can before your entire work space is submerged again under the incoming tide.
This all being said, while I was not expecting a lot of these differences, they give my work more meaning. My work at the National Park Service has been an amazing experience and has only strengthened my interest in field work and environmental research. I have been working for a cause that I strongly believe in and wish to continue work like this into the future. I am grateful to the National Park Service for this summer-long learning opportunity among dedicated and hard-working people who are also dedicated to environmental science and change. It has given me a renewed desire to study and fight the effects of climate change, and it has given me some experience that I could not get almost anywhere else.
– Isaiah Freedman