Albuquerque is a beautiful city – from nearly any vantage point in the city’s east, the surrounding area twinkles at night, while mountains surround during the day.

This past week has been particularly exciting – my plants have started to grow (see below), I got the opportunity to get some field work (see below), and the data collection for the first stage of my project is almost complete! This post will focus on the field work aspect of my week.

bnapus
Brassica napus poking up through the soil.

Field work in Los Lunas

Preparation. Motivation. Passion. Stamina. The context? Field work.

As an ecophysiologist, whenever you need to answer a burning question, you first have to decide how you will collect the data: should you run computer simulations? Should you setup an experiment in the lab? Should you go out into the field? Should you do some combination of the three? And each method has tradeoffs.

For computer simulations you can quickly amass data and draw predictions, but you often have to rely on theory and data that others have collected, and those data may not be sufficient to answer your question.

For lab experiments, you can tightly control the environment to study mechanisms and physiology, and setup the experiment so that it fits with your schedule. However it is difficult to extrapolate to the real world, where the environment is dynamic and much, much messier.

For field experiments, you can study the biology in the real world to see what is actually happening. However, you have less control over environmental conditions leading to confounding factors and difficulty in interpretation, there are time constraints, and it can be physically demanding.

Arguably, the best approach combines all three, as each approach can amplify the effect of the others.

I do not consider myself a field biologist by any means, but this past week I had the opportunity to do some field work in a corn field for my Fulbright project. Our location was out in Los Lunas, and the drive out to the agricultural field was quite scenic.

We were out in the field early in the morning to prepare out equipment, and it was a nice, cool, New Mexico morning. By mid afternoon, the sun was quite intense, and it has given me a lot of respect for the biologists who do a lot of experimental work in agricultural fields: there’s no shade or conveniences of being in a building, and you have to remain mentally alert and focused to collect good data. This is all more difficult than it sounds when the sun is beating down on you.

Overall, the experience was really fun, even if it was demanding. Using equipment outside introduces a whole host of potential problems, especially with batteries, but we managed to collect all the data we needed.

As this first project wraps up, I’ve realized how important it is for me to be engaged in a fast paced research environment: the intellectual stimulation, competition, and demand for progress make me the best scientist that I can be. Besides, if you’re not pushed towards your limits, how can you possibly achieve your potential and contribute all you can to the world?

Stay safe and stay informed,

-Joe

 

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