The last 2 weeks, I returned to the US for several reasons: to meet up with my boss at UCSB and discuss my progress and data, have my daughter meet the Garcia side of the family, and head to West Virginia University to be one of the lucky attendees (aka, committee advisors) for a Master’s Student and give a presentation about my research. By the time I had to give my presentation, I was absolutely exhausted given my whirl-wind tour of the US and the lack of sleep as a new mother. I had no idea how my presentation was going to go, and if I was going to make any sense at all as my brain was mush given the lack of sleep and my thoughts were everywhere. And then there is that little voice in the back of my head that wonders if my research IS important, and CAN be useful for conservation and policy of crocodilian habitat. Well…
I just rolled with the presentation. I discussed that I was investigating how anthropogenic andenvironmental impact was negatively affecting the biodiversity of crocodilian habitat in Belize. I discussed how I was to accomplish my project via aquatic and bird surveys, examining parasitism in snails, crabs, fish, and crocodiles, investigating salinity, temperature, and heavy metal levels of water, as well as taking tissue samples from animals in my location sites to analyze heavy metal bioaccumulation. I discussed the usefulness of utilizing parasites and top predators such as crocodilians as bioindicators of the health of the environment. And I finally discussed how I plan to use this data with the paradigm of translational ecology- using scientific data to pursue policymaking and conservation management. In my experience, many scientists claim they will utilize their work for conservation management, yet they don’t do anything once they get that published paper. A lot of progress of conservation has been lost given this lack of actually using the data and taking the time to actually make a difference within a community.
Just doing science is not wrong, but given the state of deforestation, environmental pollution, and wildlife poaching, it is pertinent that scientists let go of the “ego” and actually take time to take action. Yes, this may take time away from you publishing another 5 papers, but what if your data educated a community about their improper infrastructure, causing them to take a positive direction in fighting against pollution and habitat destruction??? Isn’t assisting or even SAVING a community from a chaotic downfall more important and fulfilling than adding another 2-5 papers in that academic period? At least for me, I prefer the former.
At the end of my presentation, I briefly discussed how I have already used my data to work with the community, local and national organizations, and the Belizean government to begin making changes and discussing other management tactics. Even though my project is not close to being done, I am already practicing the paradigm translational ecology. And I think both my project as well as my use of data for creating a change in wildlife and habitat management attracted the young and old scientists in the crowd.
“Can you sign this flyer please? You are going to be famous one day and I HAVE to get your signature!” Knowing that my project inspired this older student, as well as other students in the crowd was one of the most rewarding feelings ever. And of course, I had to chuckle when he turned to Miriam (my Master’s student), and say, “You work with her too, right? Well I want your autograph too because you are going to be famous as well.” An amazing gesture for the both of us (I talked about Miriam a lot in my talk and a bit of the work she has helped me in, as well as accomplishing herself), and another sign that I am on right path in the world of science and academia.