Just do it!

Just do it!

By Abby Webster

Just do it!

If you know me, you know I love nothing more than to travel and explore new places. So of course, being in Australia for two months was truly one of the best experiences of my life. I feel like I took full advantage of the awesome opportunity we have through the LOREX program; I learned new techniques, helped other students with field work, shared my research, and ran my own experiment using new methods I learned during my exchange. Above all though, every day I was surrounded by students, faculty, and staff from all over the world, and there we all were in little Lismore, New South Wales. Growing up in small-town USA (and I mean small, like population of about 2,000 people), I didn’t grow up with a lot diversity in people, cultures, or experiences around me. Frankly, a lot of the adults in those towns also grew up there, and so did their parents, and their parents… you get the idea. I think that’s true for a lot of rural Americans, and it’s part of the reason we are the country that we are. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there’s something to say about getting away from what you know.

One of the most memorable meals from my time in Australia. A delicious homemade dinner prepared by my friend AD as a send-off. We rounded it out with some ice cream and acoustic Green Day (anything is possible).

Now I’m not going to pretend like I experienced any sort of culture shock or was out of my comfort zone in Australia – it’s an Anglocentric country with a very casual lifestyle. The point, and I promise I’ll bring this back to LOREX eventually, is that there is so much in this world that we can learn from one another. My belief is that the most enriching thing you can do is surround yourself with people who do not share the same life experience as you. So for me, during my 8 weeks in Australia, of course there was a lot of learning in the lab, doing field work, listening to student presentations… but there was also a lot of learning over lunch hour, on the footy oval, and around a campfire. Long story short, get yourself out there.

To anyone considering LOREX, you should apply. To students who are inspired by scientists in other parts of the world, reach out to them. Attend conferences, regional and international – this has been huge for my networking in grad school (and ASLO is one of my favorites). It may be a bit naïve coming from a 25-year-old, but cold-emailing can’t hurt. What’s the worst that could happen, you don’t get a response? Best case scenario, maybe you end up at the same conference and can meet your role models.

Reminiscing on this trip brings me back to my most peaceful days, usually spent exploring a new park or beach town. This day was sunny and well-spent with friends on trails in Springbrook National Park.

I hope this reaches other students from small towns everywhere, students from underrepresented groups and underserved communities, and students from small universities you think no one has ever heard of. Take the chance, whatever comes your way, to get out and explore. I acknowledge that I come from a privileged position when I say this, but trust that if you follow what ignites you, what you feel strongest about in this world, and what you’re simultaneously most curious about, you will find your place in it and know you are doing the right thing.

It’s been a couple weeks since I wrote the paragraphs above, and I’ve had some time back in New York to digest what a great experience I had through my exchange. What I keep coming back to is how strong the sense of community was. People say “It takes a village” for all sorts of things, and I don’t think science is exempt from that statement. When you only have two months to learn a new method or carry out your own research project from start to finish, it sort of feels like crunch time all the time. You have to lean on the people around you. I was lucky to be in such a collaborative environment with multiple people (students and staff) to turn to and ask questions at any time. It took a little bit of getting used to, especially if you’re someone who is afraid you’ll ask a dumb question or send redundant emails (I was, but there is no reason to be). All in all, the people I worked with really made the difference from having a good to a great experience – in and outside of the office & lab – and they know how much I wish I were back. Someday, I will be.

The weekend before I left, we had a lovely gathering at our friends’ sharehouse. So much yummy food and laughter. We ended the night around a campfire counting the most shooting stars I’ve ever seen.


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