Early thoughts about AFEC

So I wasn’t true to myself about writing during my sojourn to Xishuangbanna — I’ll chalk that up to being busy all day from about 8 am to 10 pm, and also to honest-to-goodness laziness. Anyway, I’ll write to reflect on my experiences now.

First off, general impressions: This was my first real field course, and it was everything I had expected and a lot more. Over the six weeks, I became part of a “community of learners.” We learned together, worked together, and played together. Next time I go on a field course, I will try to leave a week or two between the end of the course and my return itinerary — I will definitely find some way to spend that time with my new friends.

AFEC participants at the CTFS plot in Bubeng

XTBG itself is a wonderful community in a wonderful place. All of our instructors, from our “core instructors” to the graduate students that ran Practical sessions, were tremendously knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and engaging. Everyone really invested a lot of effort and time in our education, and I hope that I can meet their expectations of me throughout my career.

Dr. Richard Corlett leading a discussion about frugivores

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Now for some notes of appreciation:

Special thanks to Drs. Eben Goodale and Kyle Tomlinson (boring Linked In link–is there anything better? EDIT: Kyle has sent me a new link to his Google sites page!), who taught the Statistics/R modules. As if teaching these things isn’t hard enough to begin with, Eben and Kyle had to do this after dinner, from 6.30 to 9pm every day for the first few weeks, at a time when all of us were getting tired from a long day of lectures and ready for  bed. Despite this, they did a really nice job with the lectures and practicals. I had never used R for anything meaningful before the course, but by the end of it, I was comfortable whipping together scripts to generate generalized linear models or a picture of a phylogeny with trait labels at the tips. I fully attribute this development to the wonderful introduction to statistics and R that Eben gave us and the clear introduction to sophisticated statistical methods that Kyle presented.

Thanks also to Drs. Alice Hughes and Uromi Goodale, who were wonderful mentors on… pretty much everything. Both of them repeatedly gave really helpful advice  on everything from statistical tools to where we could find some interesting food in town.  When helping us design our independent research projects, Uromi and Alice perfectly demonstrated what it means to be a scientific naturalist — a person with “deep and broad familiarity with one or more groups of organisms or ecological communities, who can draw on her knowledge of systematics, distribution, life histories, behavior, and perhaps physiology and morphology to inspire ideas, to evaluate hypotheses, to intelligently design research with an awareness of organisms’ special peculiarities.” Perhaps more importantly, the energy and enthusiasm that Alice and Uromi brought to every conversation was contagious, and I never felt tired after talking to them. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this is exactly what I hope to grow into over the years.

And finally, a shout-out to my independent project teammates : Zeng Si-Jin, Wu Wei-Huan, Nguyen Huyen, and Yao Xin. Our combined hard work led us to being named the “Best Presentation” at the AFEC Symposium, and earned us whatever glory the title carries. All of these guys were really great to work with. I only hope that they feel the same way about me.

Ficus group (AFEC 2013 at XTBG)

Ficus team, AFEC 2013, at XTBG “coffee lounge”

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