Field Trip, or “Academics: What Exactly I Am Doing Here.”

07th, December

I realized that, aside from complaining about Stats, I have not really said much about what I am doing here academically or scientifically. I had hoped to get involved in research but that proved to be difficult. Shortly after arriving here, I reached out to many professors whose work interests me but have not heard back from any. I am trying my best to network and take a genuine interest in the faculty and their background.

Presently, I am taking a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and a Fisheries Ecology course. Both of these — indeed, all of my classes here — are Master’s level courses. Yes, I am still an undergraduate. Yes, I am dealing with the subject matter well enough… except for *shudders* Statistics. At least I passed Statistics with a 3 out of 5 (a C by US standards).

I just finished my Watershed Management class. It was, to be honest, a little on the easy side for me. Except for the test, on which I succumbed to pressure and blanked on a few items, but I have no doubt I passed. I was never a good test taker; I am much better at applying knowledge to real, live situations. That seems to be when my ability to recall “useless information” is best utilized. I say the class was easy because much of the material had been covered through a variety of my classes at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I should be grateful for the lack of pressure but, the truth is, I wanted a bit of a challenge. I wanted to learn much more about freshwater chemistry, bioaccumulation, pathogen transfer pathways between ecosystems, and biogeochemistry. Still, it was a very informative class.

On that note, let me tell you about the related field trip to a farm (below) we took a couple weeks ago. We went to a field where we performed a visual analysis of the nutrient retention and mitigation measures and a chemical analysis for signs of contamination (below).

We looked at the implementation of buffer zones, structured liming, tillage practices, constructed wetlands, and tested for various aspects of water quality. And I got to play in the cattails!

I leapt at the chance to be the one sampling the water because, of course I would want to play around next to the water. The other students laughed at me in, what I assume, was endearment to my inner 12-year old. When taking one sample, I discovered a dead fish. I believe it was a 9-spined stickleback (below: by the terminal mouth, proportion of the eye, endemicity to the region, and alignment of what appear to be dorsal spines). They are, if you can believe it, closely related to walleye. *sigh* I wonder how Bubbles, my walleye from the aquaculture lab in Madison, is doing. She was a “cute,” murderous critter.

Poor little fishy. I made sure to sample upstream from the remains to avoid NO3contamination for our water chemistry test. We then wandered throughout the catchment (watershed) examining various features of the topography, soil quality, and water bodies. Everything that my professor ever discussed made perfect sense to me. “Maybe this is a sign I was meant to be involved with these topics? Maybe this is the ‘niche’ I have always been looking for?” I was then jerked back to reality by my sense of modesty and honest in what I do not yet know, and the understanding that there are thousands of ecological interactions and biogeochemical reactions which beg for scientific scrutiny.

And I got to see a moose (below, and very distant from the building in which I was)! It was on the other side of the road, but It was fun to watch.

I imagine this is the Swedish version of people from the Central Plains area (because geographically, the “Midwest” is not at all West, so I’m going to be a snob about geographic features) making entirely too big a deal over deer in the fields, but this is only the 3rd wild moose I have seen.

We wandered on through the fields to examine various pollution mitigation techniques and review the signs of the restoration projects the Swedish EPA (SEPA) had initiated. There was one projects which didn’t make much sense to us, or our professor. We all speculated if they were done for aesthetic purposes because they didn’t seem to be practical or effective as for the purposes of pollution and run-off control.

The Swedish government places a high emphasis on pollution control, efficient fertilizer use, water quality, and their national heritage of connection to nature. Can you imagine how much more wonderful American parks and wildlife would be with the same attitude? Instead of environmental end ecological priority changing with every freaking state and federal administration!?

I am giving serious thought to applying to a Master’s program here in Sweden. There seems to be a more secure pathway into a program here than what I would find in the US. When I explain the application process to Swedes, they are completely flabbergasted. They do not understand the restrictions and competitiveness of the American graduate degree system. They feel everyone should be permitted to pursue their passions and interests. They are shocked by the expectations of American graduate student applicants. Education is a right in the EU, not a privilege for the few who have the money or pass extreme qualifications. Yes, there are trade-offs but, in the EU, they seem to make room for everyone who wishes to passionately pursue their interest, instead of making people fight, claw, back-stab, and kowtow for placement in a graduate program. I honestly do not know which system is better, but if a Master’s program here at the SLU would permit me an education equal to one in the US, without having to sacrifice my integrity or sanity, I want to pursue it.

Not-so-subtle hint: If you are an American professor who might find a place for me in your lab, as a grad student, please contact me. I would be honored and would work very hard to ensure my value under your tutelage and guidance. Or, simply put, I will bust my ass for you. Also, read below…

On the subject of a Master’s or PhD:
I wrote an exploratory paper for my Watershed Management class. I was quite honored when 3 different professors of high standing told me that it was a “very compelling” subject and “worthy of a PhD dissertation.” One professor told me, “This needs to be a grant proposal.” Personally, I find the subject of my paper to be rather obvious. I cannot imagine a scenario in which someone has not yet thought of the topic, but not wanting to overlook an opportunity, it has become the focus of my studies. I think this topic will be the focus for all my future reports, essays, research, and academic endeavors (whenever possible).

And, on that note, I bid you good evening. I have much to do tomorrow for homework and should retire.