I’ll be using much of the knowledge I’ve gained in the past eight weeks of morning zoom calls for years to come.
August 10, 2021
From the basics of R programming, to the statistical methods we learned, to the education program’s insights into the world of earth sciences research, I can say this with certainty: I’ll be using much of the knowledge I’ve gained in the past eight weeks of morning zoom calls for years to come. Recently, I find myself more aware how each piece of knowledge I gather supplements all the others in its own unique way. New vocabulary words, random historical figures mentioned in class, the distribution of world economies, and the impacts of saltwater intrusion into groundwater sources all interconnect. This summer inspired me to keep chasing my curiosity — despite my current notions regarding the incompatibility of my fascination with astronomical phenomena and my hopes of becoming involved in climate activism, someday, I’ll find a connection, and that will make them both all the more meaningful to me.
For the final weeks of the internship, my group worked on first brainstorming a feasible research project (which is actually a lot more important than I had thought — no matter how passionate you might be about a subject, you’ll need a feasible, scientifically sound question that is answerable by available data to do any sort of analysis). Our team scoured numerous data sources for the elusive body size and habitat data of wild felidae (cats). Because we weren’t working with the Stanford Earth fossil body size database, we set up our own set of databases with our findings, then muddled through the inevitable “ERROR” messages courtesy of R until we had code that ran. Darren and Prem were both patient with my questions, and after many screen-share troubleshooting sessions, my debugging skills improved. Seeing the data come to life in trendlines and scatterplots instantly made the hours of information-gathering worth it.
Finally, after programming scatterplots and barcharts of as many combinations of our variables as possible, we began writing our abstract. And then we were presenting our projects, which was an incredible experience. I loved hearing the conclusions all the other interns came to, and how many of the projects overlapped.
Despite the continuation of the zoom-era, SEYI made learning exciting, and my hopes are high for meeting everyone (in person!) sometime in the fall. I really appreciate everything that Pedro, Michael, Dr. Saltzman, and Dr. Payne put into making this the best possible experience for us.
In the past few weeks of the SEYI internship program, I’ve learned, more than anything else, about the incredible ability of Earth’s life to bounce back from the brink of extinction.
July 7, 2021
My perception of climate change has often revolved around a sense of dread, inevitability, irreversibility. Yet in the past few weeks of the SEYI internship program, I’ve learned, more than anything else, about the incredible ability of Earth’s life to bounce back from the brink of extinction. Now, when I think about our warming globe, my negative feelings have evolved to include a sense of hope, that despite the unprecedented impact of humanity on the natural world, we are working to improve. And life, even if just the smallest bacteria, will continue its arduous, unexpected, and persistent path.
Our first week of lectures — on topics ranging from biodiversity and body size to the importance of the Cambrian and Ordovician periods (especially the Cambrian Explosion and the Ordovician Macroevolution) — was really stimulating. Going into this program, I did not completely understand why many scientists devote their lives to studying something so specific. Through Pedro’s lectures and Josh’s presentation, I now see how rich these (seemingly) small nooks of science are, and how studying them can profoundly impact our larger understanding of climate change and biodiversity. Although I remain unsure of what I want to do with my own career, learning about the history of our planet’s life on such a detailed level makes me realize the interconnectedness of not only our world, but also of many potential fields of scientific study.
Our second week’s introduction to programming revealed that R is simultaneously simpler and more complex than I had anticipated. Statistical programming in R is fun and challenging, and even though I’ve never taken a statistics class, Pedro and Michael’s explanations have helped me gain new skills. Writing code in R requires attention to details embedded in formulas and systems, where omitting a comma or negative sign can result in a temporary catastrophe — in the form of error messages. Luckily, these challenges make it all the more satisfying when a graph reveals a pattern or correlation, and when we can draw connections between trends in the (so far only practice problem) data and what we have learned about brachiopods or ancient life forms, and their fossils.
I have always been drawn to scientific research, especially because I love analyzing data and patterns. It’s so exciting that, beyond meeting and learning about the projects of current scientists, we will have the opportunity to take a small part in their endeavors.