Carissa Ganong, University of Georgia
What an amazing, wet, muddy, unforgettable summer it’s been. Eight students gained scientific knowledge and personal confidence and carried out superb projects. Four mentors patiently guided them through the world of hands-on field ecology and scientific thinking (how do we overcome this problem? How should we analyze these data? How do these results relate to broader scientific concepts? What the heck can we do when ALL THE FIELD DAYS GET RAINED OUT?).
And one coordinator had a totally different summer than any I’ve spent at La Selva before. As a Ph.D. candidate working on La Selva’s STREAMS project, I’ve pulled long field seasons (sometimes alone, sometimes with assistants), and I’ve mentored REUs and felt the joy and pride of seeing students develop, conduct, and present their own research. But none of that really prepares you for suddenly having eight (or twelve) people relying on you for planning, teaching, organization, support, and crisis-resolving for an entire summer. It’s a big responsibility – and, when all is said and done, it’s been the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. It’s pretty amazing to work with a group of great students (who also happen to be fantastic people) as they develop their research skills and fall in love with the jungle that’s one of my favorite places on earth (terciopelos, bullet ants, botflies, spiny palms, and all). This summer has strengthened my enthusiasm for teaching and working with students in the tropics and has also confirmed my desire to pursue a career involving courses like this one.
And then, suddenly, the REU program ended: there was a final week of caffeine-driven, semi-sleepless data analysis and report-writing, eight incredibly good final presentations given to an audience of proud mentors and interested researchers, and a last happy night together in San José, and then last Friday the close-knit REU cohort disbanded.
And now I’m back at La Selva, listening to rain drumming on the roof and thinking that the hardest part of working in a place like this is saying goodbye. Most long-term researchers here would agree with me: when you’ve become close friends with other researchers – working, eating, goofing off, sharing office space, and sometimes rooming with them – whether they’re undergrads, grad students, or senior researchers, it’s incredibly difficult to suddenly watch them leave for another country (and often another continent) with no idea of if, or when, you’ll see them again. And each new goodbye yanks at your heart a little harder.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from nine years of La Selva friendships, it’s that the world of tropical ecology truly is small. And for every lurch of depression that comes from watching a Sarapiquí taxi carry a friend off to the airport, there’s also the sudden joy of unexpectedly running into old friends – during the following year’s jungle field season, at a conference, in a different tropical site, even (a few times) on the campus of my own university.
So when I say goodbye to friends who are leaving – or, later this week, to friends who are staying behind – I try to remember that it really isn’t “goodbye” as much as, quite literally, “Hasta luego.” La Selvans have a way of seeing each other again, and I’m confident that the good times, great science, and close friendships of the past summer are more than just memories and will continue to flourish somehow, somewhere, in the future. Thanks to all the REU folks for an incredible summer, and hasta luego!