Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Research, A Whole New Experience

By Gabriel  Gabro
Scientific research has been a new experience for me at La Selva Biological Station. Beforehand, I had never pursued research and I have always wanted to gain more knowledge and skills, which was my primary reason for attending this program. During this week, I encountered scientific research and while it was intimidating, it was also rewarding and the most enlightening experience in my life.
In the first week of March, my agenda consisted of nothing but constant research! The first week of scientific research involved working in three Faculty-Led Projects (FLPs), where my peers and I were fortunate enough to have visiting professors to work with. The three available projects were: (1) Fecal parasite composition of the collard peccary, by Gwen E. Meyers, DVM, and Steven M. Whitfield, PhD; (2) Landscape variation in phytotelmata and how it may affect the distribution and abundance of disease-vector habitat, by Amanda L. Wendt, PhD; and, (3) Host specificity of bat flies, by Mariano Soley, PhD.
I was personally drawn to the phytotelmata project because I wanted to challenge my understanding of environmental habitats and vector species. Working with Dr. Wendt was rigorous but educating as I did not know what phytotelmata was when we began. I learned that it is a type of plant that holds water and because of its properties, this type of plant carries an aquatic environment for mosquito larvae and other living organisms. It was very fascinating as we collected many mosquito larvae –which are vectors of Dengue virus- from samples of phytotelmata. Encountering these specimens made me think differently about medicine and diseases. It is unfortunate to think about how there is not enough attention to diseases like Chagas, Leishmaniasis, etc. in the world, and that more research and awareness is needed to help those who are infected. This instant of realization led to my passion and determination to use all of my energy in this research.
One day when I went to collect data with Dr. Wendt, we encountered issues in our random sites, but to see her handle such obstacles associated with plot selection and measurement was inspirational. She carried an amazing confidence and a positive attitude throughout the research and it motivated me to do the same. At times, I became frustrated when things did not go as planned. However, Dr. Wendt's energy and ability to adapt to adversity taught me a lot. Once we had collected all of our data from the field, another issue arose, which was the writing component.
Considering that I have never had research experience, writing a scientific paper was difficult for me. However, with the intelligence of my experienced group members, I was able to learn from them. With their support and guidance, I was fortunate enough to understand how to write a scientific paper. It was a tough experience to perform and write as I felt hopeless at moments in my ability to academically succeed. But with the advice and support of my peers, I learned that I am starting a journey in scientific research and that it is important to have patience and confidence.
After the research experience at La Selva, I can definitely say that when I further pursue research, I will be able to apply the feelings and knowledge to my everyday activities. I believe that I have developed a greater sense of comprehension in science and it makes me feel a part of the science community. 

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