It doesn’t take much convincing to believe that the world is a beautiful place to live in. There are literally thousands of landscapes to marvel at and nearly millions of species to learn about. Truly, Mother Nature is spectacular.
However, in recent years, much of the environment’s beauty has been carelessly taken for granted — with trash polluting ecosystems, animals being poached, and people contributing to harmful carbon emissions.
But life doesn’t always have to be that way.
Have you ever wondered what you could do to leave an ethical footprint and potentially save the environment as early as now? One thing is to consider a career in the field of biology as a researcher.
Research isn’t a very popular path to take here in the country. But that’s only because of the lack of awareness of the gravity, knowledge, and importance that the job can entail. We’ve gathered a few researchers to put on the spotlight and give us a glimpse of what it’s like to work in the field.
1. Introduce yourself and tell us more about the work you do
My name is Tim Gardner, I was a Fulbright Student Scholar for 2017-2018 in the Philippines. I’m originally from Massachusetts in the United States. I studied biology at the College of the Holy Cross, and I’m interested in ecosystem-based conservation work, particularly in marine environments. I’m also interested in environmental ethics and politics, as well as natural history.
In my free time, I like to SCUBA and free-dive, as well as draw and read. My work so far has been largely in spatial studies of the habitat usage of marine animals, that is, where they go, when they move, and making insights into why they behave in those certain patterns.
My first project was on migrating songbirds in the US, the second was on an important delicacy food snail in the Caribbean the Queen Conch, and the third was the project I worked on in the Philippines, on Humpbacks in the Babuyan Islands.
2. What got you into this line of work?
I got into this work through a combination of intention and luck! I’ve always loved the natural world and decided to pursue a biology degree because of that. During my studies, I asked around for opportunities and was told about the summer research project I helped with about the birds, and also about a chance to study abroad in the Caribbean to get hands-on field research experience. I was accepted for both opportunities, and they really allowed me to get real-life project experience.
A very similar thing happened with Fulbright (who, by the way, have opportunities for Filipinos through the Philippine-American Education Foundation (PAEF)). I asked around for opportunities people knew of, was presented with this one, and reached out to my advisor, Dr. Acebes, asking if she wanted a research assistant. She said yes, and that started my journey to the Philippines!
If I’ve learned anything, it’s just to ask around to see if anyone needs help. Most people working on all sorts of projects could use a helping hand. You just have to convey what you can do to assist them.
3. What are some misconceptions about bio researchers
Hmm, I’m not sure! Possibly that we’re all nerds. Although I definitely am a bit of one (joke…ish). I think some people get the sense that biologists are all stuck in the lab with microscopes and pipettes. But it really depends on the field (and also some people end up loving lab work).
For biology that has a fieldwork component, like the work that I do, I think that people have two contradicting misconceptions: That it’s miserable, or that it’s a vacation. The people that think the former just don’t like the outdoors that much, and if that’s the case, field biology probably isn’t for them. But the latter is also not true.
Life in the field can be challenging, but it’s ultimately always so worth it. Getting to see amazing ecosystems and animals in the wild is incredible. It’s totally different from seeing photographs and videos, experiencing nature like that in real time.
4. What do you think the youth can do to make this world a better place?
There are lots of things young people can do to help. It can be really daunting at times, with so many different environmental problems that need addressing.
First, and I think this goes against popular wisdom sometimes, is to vote. It’s really important that elected officials are environmentally responsible because they make decisions and set standards for how the natural environment is going to be treated. They also regulate how corporations act. Governments and corporations do a lot of the large-scale polluting all over the world, and so it’s important to put effort into making them greener.
Second, making decisions in their own lives about how they live has an impact too. In the Philippines in particular, wherever possible I would encourage young people (and all people) to stop using single-use plastics (cups, utensils, sachets, straws, etc.) and to be mindful of where they dispose of them if they do have to use them. Encouraging family and friends to not litter, to reduce their plastic use, and to care for the environment is also a great help too.
I think it’s important not to shame people, though. Sometimes people need to use the straws if they have trouble drinking without them. Sometimes people can only afford the sachets of laundry detergent. Helping people look for more sustainable options (metal straws, helping a family member save up to buy soap in larger containers) is a great way to help out, as well as make the people you care about feel good about making better environmental decisions.
Another great way to help out is to donate time and money (if you can) to non-profits and NGOs who are doing important conservation and environmental policy work. Oftentimes organizations will have volunteer/internship positions, and getting involved with them can be rewarding personally on top of making a difference for the environment.
For example, the NGO I work with, BALYENA.ORG, needs volunteers every year for its whale and dolphin surveys! But even organizations that don’t advertise positions may need help, so it’s worth reaching out (and following up once or twice if you don’t hear back right away!) and asking how you could help.
5. What is your hope for the youth?
I just hope that young people keep up the fight. We have an amazing, diverse, and astonishingly beautiful world that is in serious danger. We all have to do our part, big or small, to ensure that our planet’s wildlife doesn’t disappear. I think it’s easy sometimes to get wrapped up in the struggles and pressures of everyday life, as we all do.
But we have to remember that not only is nature something we should protect, but it’s that it’s something we rely on for food, water, and shelter.
Basically, my hope is that young people can have a better relationship with nature than previous generations, and ideally, better than my generation as well.