Post by Luke Calderaro (Colgate '22).
Prior to this trip to the Gulf of Mexico with the PaleoLab, I had little to no field experience. The laboratory activities and demonstrations I completed during my undergraduate career could only prepare me so much for work outside of the classroom. As someone who only recently accepted his intentions to pursue an advanced degree in the Earth sciences, my lack of experience often left me wondering if I was ready to launch into a PhD project that required fieldwork. I felt nothing but excitement when imaging days in the field, but a question kept nagging at my mind: Am I cut out for data collection outside of the lab?
After completing the Louisiana and Alabama legs of our Gulf of Mexico excursion, I have gained new confidence in my graduate school preparedness. One of my favorite aspects of the scientific method is the unpredictability of one’s results. Yes, a review of previous related research is required, and yes, hypotheses naturally flow from this reading, but the results of a novel project are never realized until the work is complete. Flexibility is vital for this journey to completion. I learned this during my senior thesis, and found the same need for this skill in our field research. Every day on the water brought new environmental conditions, new surprises, and new challenges that had to be dealt with in order to complete our goals. For example, rough seas often kept us onshore, and at one point, a rare equipment malfunction forced us to return to land for a couple hours to repair gear. In all of these instances, we were forced to adapt, whether that meant shuffling our work schedule to beat poor weather forecasts or sampling multiple sites in a single day. Whatever roadblock got in our way, we were able to shift our plans in order to meet our goals.
Embracing flexibility could be a source of conflict for some individuals because, in a way, coming to terms with the need for flexibility relinquishes control of a given action plan. When thousands of dollars of funding are on the line, who would want to take their hands off the steering wheel or, in our case, the helm? From what I have gathered from this experience, though, this is just the nature of fieldwork, and research more broadly. When I move on to other projects in the field (some of which I hope to lead), I will remember this lesson in flexibility, stay on my toes, and counter any barriers to success that come my way.