Scientific Roots in the UK – STEP Study Abroad Experience

For my STEP experience, I enrolled in the Scientific Roots in the UK course and spent the first half of the spring semester in the classroom at OSU learning about the incredible scientific advancements made overtime in England, the people who made those advancements, and their significance throughout history. Then over spring break, we had the opportunity to travel to some of those places of cultural, historical and scientific significance in London, Lyme Regis and Cambridge that we learned about in class, and experience them for ourselves.

Throughout my experience in the classroom, as well as in England, I really broadened my knowledge of science as an interdisciplinary study. I think because the sciences are an ever-evolving field we often view them in the present and future tenses. Rarely do we get the opportunity to study where these discoveries came from, their social implications and historical context in detail. This program I was able to complete through STEP was unique because of the occasion it offered me to gain a deeper understanding of scientific discoveries and see how the evolution of science throughout history connects to social movements, social conditions and the sociology behind the study and pursuit of scientific knowledge.

Beyond the academic significance of this experience, I also gained a better understanding of myself through completing my STEP Signature Project. This was my first time traveling abroad, and as someone who is at Ohio State University purely on scholarship and coming from a small town in Appalachia, the idea of traveling to another country was as terrifying as it was exciting. Throughout my time studying with my classmates here at OSU and studying abroad in England, I not only gained confidence in myself individually, but also gained confidence in the way I connect with others.

One of the most valuable things gained from this experience was building lasting friendships with fellow students. We had a small group of people from different backgrounds, majors and academic ranks on our trip, and learning from and with one another was a wonderful experience I will always be thankful for. I went into this trip trying to see England all on my own, but found that some experiences in life are best shared with people who are just as amazed as you are.

It is certainly hard to pick favorites but the most memorable part of my trip was probably an afternoon fossil hunting on the shores of Lyme Regis. While talking to one of the few professional fossil hunters who makes his living by finding and selling beautiful pre-historic artifacts to tourists, I was given some sage advice about life. Listening to his stories about why he does what he does, and why he chose to stay in his home town and go into the “family business” of fossil hunting with his father was one of those conversations I will never forget.

While walking through the clay-like sand down the coast, his trained eye saw in a large piece of shale rock the edge of a perfectly preserved ammonite fossil. Normally, I would not have the confidence to ask questions when the answer could be “no”, but this was a wonderful opportunity I could not waste, so I asked him if he would mind if we tried break it open to find the fossil. To my excitement, he said yes. I now have several pictures of me chiseling out a perfect ammonite fossil that I was allowed to take home with me. Needless to say, best souvenir ever.

Beyond all the fun I had, I truly learned so much in the classroom and in England during this experience. As a sociology major, I was a little intimidated going on this trip with so many students who were biology and chemistry majors. But throughout our conversations and learning experiences, it was clear to me that a sociological perspective on science was also incredibly valuable. For example, we visited the Royal Society, which serves as a scientific authority in England, and has since the mid 1600s. While on the surface we learned about the historical significance of the Royal Society Fellows, and their contributions to the advancement of conducts and communications around scientific discovery. But on a deeper level, we were given an inside look at the social structure of this particular scientific institution, and their relationships to other institutions of scientific discovery. Because of my background in sociology, I was able to think further about the social conditions that either serve to further the exploration of science, or hinder that pursuit.

Participating in this trip was one of the best decisions I have made as an OSU student. It is so hard to put into words just how much I learned over the course of a few short weeks in the classroom, and one week abroad. I draw on those experiences often in ways that I was not expecting to after the trip. Sure, I thought that I would be able to return from England with some trivia to impress my friends, but never did I think I would draw on conversations I had with locals about pursuing my passions, or the importance of family. I never thought then that when I now find myself in situations of uncertainty, I remember the way I got myself and my buddy to every single “must-see” we had circled on our map of London in one day to remind myself that even when life is overwhelming, there is always time for tea. This change in the way I understand and view myself really matters in terms of my future endeavors, both personally and professionally. The broader understanding of my field of study in sociology and how it connects to the pursuit of human discovery in the sciences is incredibly valuable. That kind of understanding only comes from in-depth experiences like the one I was lucky enough to be a part of in England.