This research experience is the first time I have ever been exposed to field work. Though I was ecstatic to receive the offer to be part of the Paleo Lab, I was unsure what to expect or even how to prepare for the trip. This uncertainty did not stop me from immediately accepting the offer, and it was not until the weekend prior to starting the 10-week research experience, that the fear of uncertainty dawned on me. What am I doing? I’m traveling for weeks down to southern coasts of the country with strangers I don’t know to be in the middle of the ocean and dig through mud? I felt silly that I had not thought about it more but I could not back out now with the start date so close. The fear soon passed once I recollected my thoughts and realized how amazing an opportunity this is. But now I tackled a new, and bigger, fear. What if I am not qualified enough to do this type of research? Why was I chosen, and what can I contribute to this work? What if I cannot contribute anything worthwhile? What if I disappoint the team?
Nearly three weeks since embarking on this journey, I realize how much I have learned, not only from the field work, but from the people that I have met along the way. I went from feeling as though I was not qualified enough to realizing that this journey is meant to teach me new skills that will be useful later in the future. I went from not knowing anything about clams to understanding how critical they can be in answering questions about how human kind has impacted ecosystems over hundreds of years. I went from having a difficulty picking through samples to loving every time I see a little Nuculana acuta, my personal favorite little guy that made up most of the live count at our Alabama sites. I learned much more about worms than I will ever need to know from crew members on the boat who work at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and study burrowing in different sedimentary environments. In fact, besides the field work, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was from Cy and Grant, the crew of the R/V E.O. Wilson. Conversations about future plans and advice on what I should do post-graduation arose and Cy, a PhD student at the ea Lab assured me it’s okay to be lost. He told his tale of how he never had thought about worms before, and after joining the Sea Lab, ended up focusing his PhD research on them. Grant, in Marine Technical Support and the Lab’s Diving Safety Officer, was very frank with me and explained to me that there are certain things in life I must focus on in order to achieve my goals. He explained that in order to achieve a goal, I must have the skills and background to think independently and innovatively. He explained that that is not something you learn from a classroom but rather by going out and doing the work, much like the field work that I am currently a part of.
The only other thing I learned during this last few weeks has been that I am quite prone to seasickness and let me tell you, it is not a fun experience. Surviving the day on green apples and lemon drops, I have not let that hold me back from contributing in the field work.