The STEP Signature Project I decided to do was a research project already existing in the College of Earth and Sciences. This project studies the affects of ocean acidification and climate change on different biological qualities of corals such as respiration, feeding, and photosynthesis. These are all important factors when studying how bleaching events affect corals and how corals can be resilient and continue to grow in the face of stress.
When I first joined the lab I had little or no experience in the research field. I learned quickly just how much work it takes to successfully complete a project. Many of the graduate students had been working on their projects for three or more years and had not published their findings because they still had data to collect or analyze. The amount of hours they put into the projects was astronomical and I don’t think anyone outside of the field really takes a moment to think about that. I began to understand that this field of work was full of unbelievably talented and hard working individuals that put their blood, sweat, and tears (sometimes literally) into their work.
When I got to the field institute, it was straight to work for the next five weeks. I began to understand that I had the mental capability to work long hours every day for more than a week. I learned more and more everyday about how sometimes work was not necessarily physically exhausting (although sometimes you don’t realize how tired you are until the end), but more of a mental game than anything. Counting thousands of zooplankton a night, reading off even more numbers, and doing the same thing day and night begins to wear on the mind. Looking back I realize that this experience has shown me the capability I have to continue, to not give up, and to do hard work without complaint. More than anything, this experience has been an unbelievable professional development opportunity and has taught me what the professional world can be like.
During my time in Hawaii doing field work, the work hours and people there really helped bring about an understanding of how I am as a teammate and worker. I have realized I am a “get at it” kind of worker, in truth, we all were. We all just got to it and that’s the only way we got the amount of work we had to do done in five weeks. The transformation I saw in myself wasn’t exactly a light-bulb moment, it was more of a, “chisel away at the old pieces to see what is underneath,” kind of transformation. I believe the work ethic was always there, but it was the mental resiliency that really came about, and I attribute that to the people I had the pleasure to work with.
This project has made me realize the direction of my career and the relationships I’ve made here will (and have) helped me look for future opportunities in related fields. I believe this experience has kick started a variety of potential opportunities coming to me in the next year or so and I am beyond grateful.
Looking ahead I know that the work ethic, mental resiliency, and contacts I have made during this project will always stick with me. The understanding that although I may not be looking to make a career out of research I know that I can bring the skills and qualities I have developed through the STEP signature project to any career I pursue. This really has been a transformation for me because now I know that even when I’m unsure or nervous about what I’m getting myself into I can see it through to the end.
More than anything this has been a learning experience. That is why it has been so valuable. I was able to learn that I can make an impact on a project, work consistently, and enjoy the work all at the same time. I also learned that I can be on my own thousands of miles away from anyone or anywhere I really knew. Going into the project, the group had not really gotten to know each other but throughout the duration of the experience we all became friends and learned a lot about each other. This showed me that I can take a leap into the unknown and come out okay. The STEP signature project relates to my life in all aspects and will always be apart of me wherever I go.