Submitted by Bonnie Page (Franklin and Marshall College)
Although I had always admired scientists, I never pictured myself being one. In my mind, scientists were geniuses, those who only had natural abilities to excel in scientific pursuits and utilized their time to explore their interests in science, rather than struggling to keep up with the material. By senior year of high school, I thought it would be in my best interest to pursue something that I envisioned myself capable of instead of failing at science.
But then it was time to select my college courses, and throughout the summer I came to the conclusion that I could at least try taking a college science or mathematics course–after all, what harm would an intro course do?
By the end of my first semester, I was actually enjoying chemistry and my other STEM courses. Before college, the mere idea of research turned me off. In my mind, it was something more like a punishment than an interest. My professors and peers gave me a different perspective though, one that was full of wonder, discovery, challenge, and excitement. So, even though I had never pictured myself being a researcher, I began reading and learning more about various research studies and opportunities, and I decided to ask some of my professors about research opportunities on my campus.
After several meetings with my own professors and advisors, I stumbled across Dr. Williams in the Earth and Environment department, who I hadn’t met prior to a meeting I had set up with him through an email. A week later after telling me about his own research, he sent me an email about Keck. The opportunity sounded unreal–2 weeks in Glacier National Park gaining field experience, analyzing data in a real lab and working closely with expert researchers, getting published before my Sophomore year, and even receiving a stipend. It sounded too good to be true, probably too good for a Freshman who was hesitant about their STEM major and had just decided they wanted to try research. But instead of doubting myself or worrying about my lack of geological knowledge, I decided to get out of my own way and go for it. Even if I didn’t get accepted, I would still be proud of myself for trying.
But that’s the beauty of the Keck Consortium; they aren’t concerned about how many geologic terms you have memorized, your ability to receive nothing but As in your classes, or your unwavering confidence in your ability to do STEM. It’s about your passion, curiosity, and desire to push yourself and become an integral part of a team determined to learn and grow. I can guarantee you that no one is a professional in the beginning, and perfection is not a sustainable goal for science or for yourself.
Research takes time and patience. It begins with taking the initial step, then another small step, then another, and another. Before you know it, 5 weeks have gone by, you’ve pushed yourself to physical limits you didn’t think you were capable of, collected 21 core samples that date back to at least 13,000 years ago, seen some of the most astonishing alpine landscapes and wildlife of your life, and pooped in the woods. You’re basically Bear Grylls, but you’ve learned that mud is one of the coolest (and stinkiest) history books you’ll ever come across.
During our days at Glacier National Park, we were a subject of curiosity to the many park-goers crossing our path. From carrying loads of gear down trails to kayaking our coring raft on the lakes, we stuck out and people wanted to know what we were up to. This meant we had to get really good at explaining things, to individuals with a wide spectrum of knowledge. We each came up with an elevator pitch and tested them out, but soon realized that we had to pay attention to our audience as well. We encountered people with no clue about glacier processes and on the other end USGS researchers who did this kind of work on the regular. Finding the perfect balance between complex and interesting was a challenge, but after a lot of trial and error, it came naturally.
One day, while a part of our group was coring on Swiftcurrent Lake, a few students and I stayed on the stream entering Swiftcurrent to measure sediment concentration and water discharge. This meant we wore our waders, which to the public was a hit attraction! We were situated underneath a bridge which was frequented by hikers, so throughout the day people would stop and stare, prompting us to greet them and strike a conversation. Everyone we spoke to was super excited to hear about what we were doing and often asked intriguing questions. It was amazing to connect with so many individuals, to the point where knowledge of our work was being spread throughout the Many Glacier area. We also got to fill in the Rangers on our findings, allowing them to talk about it to visitors during hikes, who we would then run into around the Many Glacier Hotel or in our campsite! This research experience connected our group to people from all over the world, demonstrating clearly how not only the field work being done was important, but being able to share our discoveries as well.
Submitted by Jacob Watts (Colgate University)
While in Glacier National Park pushing cores into sediment meters below and hauling around the massive raft on which the cores are taken, one sure does work up an appetite. Most days we would not even consider finishing on the coring raft until 5:30 pm. And don’t even think about getting into camp before 6! The work was grueling at times, but we had moments of laying back on the raft eating the lunches we made earlier that morning. In complete bliss, I got to take a break and look up at the glacially carved mountains surrounding us on three sides. It’s those times of exhausted accomplishment that I lived for, PB & Nutella sandwich half melted, dripping from my sunchapped lips. My only thoughts were on the mixed nuts and beef jerky that were scattered in the bottom of my well worn lunch ziploc. But! Not a second to spare, the past (in the form of a lake sediment core) awaits! And up we sprung up, ready to get our next core.
As the day came to an end, kayaking our loot, the cores, back to shore, I plan the night’s meal. On shore we mentally inventoried our food supply and took a poll to decide that we wanted stir fry for dinner! Keep in mind, we were all crazy hungry at this point. So what really happened when we got into camp was a mad rush to get the food out of the back of the van and in the pan! I was usually in charge of getting out the stove, lighting it, and prepping the spices for the stir fry, while a small army with knives and cutting board frantically cut up vegetables to be thrown in at a moment’s notice. All the while, all 8 students shoved dirt stained hands into a chip bag for our traditional chips and salsa appetizer, far beyond the point of washing our hands before dinner. We are truly in the wilderness now, I thought as I stirred the veggies and salting the pasta.
The meal was delicious and the campsite was dead quiet, only the ground squirrels could be heard bravely scampering over feet to nibble the scraps as soon as they hit the ground. This was another moment of exhausted bliss, satisfied that my stomach was full and so were my friends’ after a long, fun day on the raft. I shamelessly didn’t even bother to help clean up, because I did my part in cooking for the group, plus, my hammock was just too tempting. As I laid in the hammock, I couldn’t see anything, mainly because my eyes were closed, but I could hear the clinking of silverware being washed, the signs of a meal past. Similar to the cores that we gathered, a record of the past, I thought as I fall asleep with a full stomach and a content heart, probably dreaming about food.