A Summer at the Smithsonian

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Perks with SERC

Last summer, I had the immense privilege of working as a summer research intern at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland.  Not only did the work there help me feel more confident in my research abilities, but it also helped me grow immensely as a person.  The folks I met at SERC – both researchers and fellow interns in the dorms – are among some of the most interesting, most talented, and most inspiring people I’ve ever met.

The theme of my summer: PLANTS!!

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Wetland plants in greenhouse chambers during our nutrient uptake experiment

Greenhouse plants, wetland plants, wild edible plants; there was not a day that went by that was not influenced by plants in some shape or form.

My root work followed me into DC… we visited the U.S. Botanical Gardens and they even had a special exhibit dedicated to my favorite complex underground structures.

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Livin’ the root life

My summer science experience wasn’t just limited to SERC, though.  My amazing mentor also graciously let me join her in attending the Ecological Society of America conference in Baltimore. It was basically an immense gathering of ecologists and other environmental scientists to get together and talk about current research and newly discovered information.  It made me realize just how small the world of ecology can be – without planning on it, I ran into my advisor, his post-doc, and a fellow student from school in the hallway.  After chatting for a few minutes, several other people stopped by to chat to individuals in our group and catch up on recent events.  I’ve begun learning the art of networking, and it’s far more personal than I ever expected.

On networking:

Networking is an essential part to any career.  But to me, networking used to seem like such a slimy concept.  I was under the impression from movies and books that networking is when you’re nice to people just so that they can possibly do something for you in the future.  I always felt uncomfortable “building my network” because the last thing I’d ever want is to impose on others or make them feel like they are being used.  But over time, I’ve learned that networking is so much more than impersonal professional favors.  The people that I have had the chance to meet in conferences, internships, or during research aren’t merely professional connections – they’re interesting and wonderful individuals that I’d want to catch up with every so often just because I love hearing about what they’ve been up to or are planning on doing in the future.  Building my network has – so far – been more building personal relationships with people I have a lot in common with.  And one day, I hope I can help people out with their projects or give advice, as well.

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ESA Conference in Baltimore, MD

Getting to the ESA conference was incredibly easy, as well, because of SERC is so close to Baltimore.  SERC is in the perfect location – only a relatively short drive to Annapolis, Baltimore, and D.C.  While at SERC, I had the chance to visit these places several times, in addition to making longer trips to Delaware beaches and Shenandoah National Park to hike Old Rag.

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A thunderstorm rolled over the water as the sun set in bright skies behind us
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Goodbyes are always the hardest part

This post only scratches the surface of my incredible summer experience.  I have so many stories, memories, and experiences that I gained in only 12 weeks that I can’t possibly cover them in one post, but I plan on making smaller, more specific posts in the future to talk about individual things that stood out a lot to me.  SERC was an amazing place with unbelievably kind, interesting, and intelligent people.  While I still have a year left of school to get through, I hope that one day I will be able to return to Edgewater to work on more research or even help teach the next generation of researchers one day.

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