This summer I have been given the opportunity to share and develop my research project with an amazing group of researchers from a wide range of disciplines. This experience has taught me that research can be shared in a variety of different ways and does not have to fit within the confines of traditional methodology. Before beginning this fellowship, I thought that my project might be too isolated in the field of ecology. I was worried about finding an effective way to connect my research beyond its seemingly narrow scope. I had always imagined research to be a one-way street where you could only conduct it successfully if your question was either very specific or groundbreaking. As I began my Brackenridge fellowship, I quickly realized that this was not the case. Meeting my fellow cohorts helped me to reposition my framework on what research is and what it can be. You do not need to be at the very top of your field or even an expert. All you need is a question or topic you are passionate about and a supportive network to help guide the process. After learning about various ways of communicating research and getting feedback from my cohorts, I discovered new ways of approaching my project that I had never considered before. For example, I found that the scope of my project was not as restricted as I first thought. Even though I only focused on one specific plant species, I learned how to frame its purpose and significance in a more approachable manner. I was able to demonstrate how my research question can impact our understanding of many other species and why everyone should care. Through the readings and discussions in seminar, my fundamental understanding of who can conduct research and what it can grow into significantly changed.
My favorite part of my Brackenridge experience has most certainly been the other fellows I have been able to meet and hear from during seminar. I have been amazed by each and every one of their projects and thoroughly enjoyed getting to hear about their progress throughout the summer. Every person I have met has had an inspiring level of passion and determination behind their project. I wish that we could have had more time as a group so that I could hear more about the details and inspiration behind everyone’s research. It sounds cliché but I truly believe that the value of an experience lies within those you meet and this short summer in the Brackenridge Fellowship has shown me just that. The interdisciplinary makeup of the class was highly rewarding as I was able to get many unique perspectives of my project that I never would have thought of. If I was in a room with just ecologists every week, then my project would have turned out much more restricted and I would not have had the chance to develop my public outreach skills. The people I got to know defined my experience with the Brackenridge fellowship and made it invaluable to me in countless different ways.
I just returned from traveling across the continent to Anchorage, Alaska where I presented a poster of my research at the Botanical Society of America’s annual conference. Believe it or not, not every researcher or botanist I met knew what garlic mustard was or why it’s so pervasive. The abilities and practice I developed through my experience allowed me to thrive in this setting. I was able to successfully put my research problem and purpose into something approachable and digestible to a non-expert. I also found confidence to meet with researchers who’s work I found to be related to my own or just really cool. Nothing could have prepared me better than the people I got to know during this fellowship. What could be next after traveling across North America? I plan to draft a manuscript of my research and submit it to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. This will allow my research findings to reach an audience who can directly use it such as land managers or policy makers. I also plan to develop a short documentary film on my project to inform the public on why is important to understand it’s spread across the state of Pennsylvania. I hope to get this distributed by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the University of Pittsburgh in order to reach a wide audience. After I graduate, I plan to pursue a research or project based Master’s degree with a focus in environmental and endangered species conservation, restoration, sustainability, and/or a related field. I am uncertain if this program will be tangential to the research I conducted this summer or if it will be a new experience entirely. Nevertheless, I will be able to take all of the skills I have gathered from the Brackenridge fellowship and my time at Pitt as a whole to thrive in whatever path I end up taking. Research is not a direct, one-way road. It can have twists and turns and can sometimes even take you across a continent. Everything has questions. With enough passion and the right people around you, they can be answered.