Go get lost! (in thought, that is)

I was struck by something a professor said to my Classical Ecology class in the fall of 2016: “I took my biology undergraduate students outside for class one day. We sat down in the lawn near a tree and I asked them what species the tree was. Guess what? None of them could answer! Not one! This was an upper-level biology course mostly with biology majors!” He was outraged.

Research highlighting the important connections between people and nature span decades (WHO 1946, Kaplan 1995, Clay 2001, Diaz et al. 2006, Cardinale et al. 2012, Sandifer et al. 2014, and many more), yet today we seem more disconnected than ever (e.g. biology majors cannot identify a common tree species that he/she walks by everyday). I’m sure we are all aware of the benefits a simple walk outside may provide, ranging from psychological to physical, but what does this have to do with CIDD?

Here at CIDD, lab work is a major underpinning of research. However, context outside of a microscope may be equally as important. CIDD is exceptional in that students, post-docs, and professors all manage to get out to their study sites (whether it be across the globe or at a farm across town). They collaborate with local people and local governments to address the needs of the people and areas their research affects most. These connections are imperative; you cannot learn from a book what you can learn from the field. If you are wondering why your creativity is at a lull, consider visiting your field site or taking a stroll outside. This is how the Legends began their thinking, and the most acclaimed and seasoned scientists at CIDD will tell you the same (at least in my experience).

So, how do we start to connect our passions and our research to the actual study system? It might not be as hard as you think! ALL of our research actually takes place in a natural system, yet sometimes it is easy to forget that when you are looking at computer screens and equipment all day. You are doing what you’re doing because that disease impacts humans, animals, plants, insects, or all of the above! I am lucky enough to do field work on a regular basis; I hike around and watch animals for extended periods of time and ponder why they do what they do. Not everyone can visit his or her study system regularly (or maybe even at all!), but you can take a break from the lab, clear your mind, and let thoughts flow more freely. Who knows, if you happen to be outside a mosquito may bite you, giving you the malaria-related epiphany you have been waiting for!

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2 Responses to Go get lost! (in thought, that is)

  1. Andrew Read says:

    I strongly agree with this. I’ve always found it mind-blowing to be in high transmission malaria regions, for so many reasons, but not least inspiration to do better. And six months ward rounding with ID docs in the U Mich hospital transformed my interests. As I said to the Dean, trying to justify leave to go there, if you are a tropical rain forest ecologist, you have to go to tropical rain forests, so if you are an ID ecologists…..

    I learned the hospital ecosystem is fascinating, hugely important and very poorly understood.

  2. Absolutely agree – your post is spot on. It is so important to go to the site and be inspired by it…or made speechless by the scale of the problem you are trying to tackle! For most projects I have worked on, I have relied heavily on local knowledge from those who live at my study sites or have worked in these areas for a long period of time. Information from them can often change around my entire project or research question! Often, at the beginning of a project and before the first field visit our ideas of what is important do not align well with what is going on in the field.

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