By Maddy Wendell
As an Environmental Policy major and English minor, I have not taken many field research or hard science courses at Colby. When I heard about the Colby-Bigelow Jan Plan as a soon-to-graduate senior, I wanted to take the course to deepen my understanding of the scientific process and marine research. I knew I’d gain experience that I could translate to my life after college, but I didn’t realize how much I’d learn about the scientific process in general. Being able to focus on each part of the process gave me an in-depth, more nuanced understanding of the efforts, questions, analyses, and conclusions scientists make during their work.
First of all, underwater research is hard! Laying out transects, taking photos of the bottom, and trying to count each fish bite takes a lot of concentration, and waves and currents make it extra challenging. Even in the labs at Bermuda and Bigelow, nothing was perfect or as easy as it seemed. Before, science (especially when I read academic papers) had always seemed so distant and far-away, with people knowing exactly what they’re doing, having clear-cut questions from the start, and following a process to find an exact answer. However, I learned that while you may start research with one question, oftentimes you find new questions along the way, or realize it was more complicated than you think. I loved learning about how to do science, about how fun it is. You’re learning, processing information, and changing your opinions and hypotheses along the way, and although it can be difficult and time-intensive, with many roadblocks along the way, you come out with a deeper understanding of the world around you.
To me, one of the most important lessons I learned from this trip was about drawing connections between scientific knowledge-seeking and human activities and decisions. I was really inspired by Dr. Nichole Price’s research on edible seaweed and how she works with both local Maine seaweed harvesters and more large-scale business owners. Additionally, understanding the scientific method will allow me to help bridge the communication gap that exists between some scientists, communities, and policy-makers. Sometimes, science can feel removed from the lives of many, but in reality, it affects all of us, from our diets to our environment. This course gave me a deeper understanding of these connections, while also providing me with an incredible field research experience!
Maddy Wendell is a Colby College student in the 2019 Colby-Bigelow Jan Plan course. This intensive experience provides an immersion in ocean research with an emphasis on hands-on, state-of-the-art methods and technologies.