Confidence, STEM, and Pooping in the Woods

Confidence, STEM, and Pooping in the Woods

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.