17 June 2014

How I became a field ecologist

Annie Lloyd is a student from the University of California (UCSC) who is in the first group of students from UC participating in the Sustainability Program being run jointly by the UC Education Abroad Program and Lincoln University. She took our Field Ecology course in January 2014 and these are her thoughts on that subject.

My affinity for ecology began when I was young. I lived near a botanic garden in my hometown of Claremont, California. My escape from urbanization and suburbia was in those gardens as well as my own at home. I loved exploring the native chaparral and found that my passion for nature would follow me through to university. I am currently working on an Environmental Studies degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz. My decision to attend UCSC was mostly based in its location; the campus is located in both a redwood fo
Annie in action in Nina Valley
rest and at the beach. I felt that my inspirations for my major would fit perfectly with the environment. However, my classes were not as involved in the landscape as I had hoped.

I then decided to study abroad (which although exciting is a sometimes daunting task). I found myself searching for places that could supply me with new habitats and inspiration for a career in ecology. I had heard about New Zealand’s amazing fauna and I knew that I wanted to study in a place that was completely different to my home. In the end, I chose Lincoln University because of the Sustainability program. As I arrived in New Zealand I was greeted by a multitude of opportunities and adventures. I have been able to travel the country and experience new landscapes. The first week at Lincoln, Tim Curran, our lecturer, told us about ECOL 310 and I knew immediately that I wanted to take the course. At home, courses are much larger and the competition to be enrolled in a field research class is nearly impossible. I extended my stay here purely because I wanted the opportunity to do research in a new environment as an undergrad. The nine-day field trip to the Nina Valley spurred my desire to join the course even further. How could I pass up such an opportunity?

Initially, I was extremely intimidated by the idea of having to come up with my own research project and actually execute it as well. But, I quickly learned that there was a huge support group, not only with the professors, but with the students also. I knew that I wanted to work with birds as I have been interested in the native bird species here since I first arrived in NZ. My project, “New Zealand Robin Population Distribution: Temporal and Spatial Variables,” consisted of doing bird counts in multiple sites. I was a beginner at all of this. I had taken courses back home, but we rarely went out in the field. I was finally participating in research methods I had only previously written about.
Swamp and forest in Nina Valley

Coming from a university of over 17,000 students, I had never seen so many professors participating in one course. I couldn’t believe how invested they were in the research as well as the students. The outdoor classroom felt like summer camp and the community we created was so instrumental in my being successful in the course. Students and lecturers alike helped with each other’s projects. Tim and Adrian took three of us students working on bird projects for a hike through Nina Valley to collect data. Hiking through southern beech forests with such knowledgeable company while learning about how to be an ecologist was worth staying the extra semester. I am so grateful to have taken this course and to have been taught the practicalities of creating a career in science. Over those three weeks I learned more about what I wanted to do in the future than I thought I would. ECOL 310 gave me a much better understanding of what it meant to be an ecologist.

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