Benefits of fieldwork for microbiologists in a multinational setting
Colombia is a beautiful and diverse environment, unfortunately misconceived and labelled as dangerous. However this leaves Colombia devoid of tourist crowds, allowing the countries authentic culture to flourish. Positioned close to the equator, Colombia has little seasonality and the climate remains reasonably constant, however the conditions are heavily dependent upon altitude. This means huge diversity and variation in the environment encompass Colombia, making it the perfect destination for fieldwork and exploration. In the summer of 2015 I had the privilege to be accepted on a Microbiology field trip to Colombia exploring the effects of temperature and humidity on microbial diversity and abundance.
Sarah, Maria and I Sampling the soil at location 2 (Santa Fe De Antiquia, Cotove) in the background of a Cocoa Fruit
The course entailed three key components: fieldtrips to collect samples, analysis of such samples in the lab and lectures and seminars from staff with different specialisms and backgrounds. My colleagues and I began the trip at Arvi Park in Medellin, the first of three field sites we had the opportunity to sample and explore. Each location vastly differed from the last; it felt as though we were in a separate country each day, but in reality we were just hours apart. The second week of the fieldtrip focused on the analysis of our samples. Early starts were in order to be able to analyse such a large volume of data in just one week; highlighting the importance of good time management and teamwork. The analysis included isolating bacterial species of interest so that we could identify and characterise them using various microbial techniques. The results enabled us to determine characteristics associated with temperature and humidity as well as some potential applications in human life. I discovered some of the real benefits research can have.
In addition to all the hard work we also had the chance to take a tour of the University of Antioquia and a banana plantation in Uraba as well as taste some exotic fruits including mamoncillo, corozo and tamarind. These activities led to a better understanding and appreciation of Colombia and its people.
Not only did I improve and learn new skills in Microbiology from the fieldtrip but the multinational setting gave me the chance to learn from other students with very different backgrounds. Joining me on this trip of a lifetime were students from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Eafit and Universidad de Antioquia. Working in multinational groups aided my development and progression in analytical thinking; giving me the opportunity to learn new ways of problem solving. The two weeks I spent in Colombia will never be forgotten and the skills gained will continue to support future job applications for the rest of my career.
More information about the trip can be found here.
Group E. Left to Right: Ash (me), Maria, Sarah and Erika