Claire, Kacy, and I woke up on a cloudless, crip morning and began our walk across campus and through a small strip of woods separating the main buildings from the outskirts of the university. We arrived at the CIEE office, where we would be taking our one week long Research Methods class. Our lecturer, Alicia, and Paul’s wife Kate, greeted us when we walked through the door. They each told us a little bit about themselves and then we started our lectures. For the next few days, we received multiple lectures in one sitting. Monday was just an introduction to research methods and an overview of what would be expected from us academically.
The grading in Australia (or maybe just this program) is very different from the US.
High distinction is an A in the US, Distinction is a B, Credit is a C, Pass is a D, Fail is an F.
From the table, it looks like getting an A would be a really easy thing to do here. However, they expect above and beyond, professional level work for an A to be achieved. The average grade received by students here is a C, which is considered low back home in the states.
The second day of class, we met at the same spot and got two lectures about the different types of field methods, as well as tips on how to write a good scientific paper. Tuesday afternoon, Alicia picked us up and drove us 30 minutes away to a place on the coast called Cape Peron to carry out some research. My first real impression of the Indian Ocean was amazing. Australia gets another gold star for their gorgeous coast line! The capes jagged edges and shimmering sand beaches took my breath away. The cape was more rough around the edges than what we had seen down south, but I almost liked this even more. The tide pools created by the stone, sand, and saltwater contained species that I had never seen before. Little blue star fish slowly moved along the seaweed covered stone, and bright orange crabs hid between the cracks made by the oceans relentless beating.
This little guy was alive, but pretty dry and far up shore when we found him. We returned him back to the deeper part of the intertidal zone so he could be with his other little starfish friends!
We wandered around Point Peron for a little over an hour, admiring everything as we went, and finally arrived at our research location. There was equal amounts of sand and rock down the beach, flanked on both sides by rocky points. We had decided to compare the variation of invertebrates at different depths of the intertidal zone. To do the experiment, we used the transect and quadrat method and looked at the number of different invertebrate species in different areas. I won’t go into any more detail about the process in effort to keep you interested in what I’m saying! Scientific research isn’t for everyone, but if you want to read about it, I’ve found a paper that explains it all quite well. Click here to see it.
The sun was starting to set when we finally got around to our actual sampling, so we rushed to finish it all and then headed back to school. The next morning, Claire and Kacy and I met up to write our group paper on our findings. The paper was due at 5pm and it was already 11:00am by the time we started. We got focussed and wrote until our hands were cramping, then checked, and rechecked the paper before submitting it around 4:30pm. I didn’t have the chance to miss home too much that day because we were so busy! We felt pretty good about our paper but had to keep in mind what we had heard about the way they grade here. Sure enough, we got a 78% on our paper, which is a B (so close to an A!), but I still felt pretty down about it. I really want to succeed in all of my classes. The grades transfer directly over to OSU and I need lots of A’s if I’m going to apply for vet school in the spring.
Our next assignment was to choose a scientific research method and create a scientific poster discussing the different aspects of that procedure. I chose to do my poster on tagging on animals for research. The three of us were itching to get out of our rooms, so we adventured to Fremantle to find a coffee shop with free wifi. It hadn’t stopped raining all morning and we were eager to find something warm to drink. We finally found a place that had good reviews on Yelp, called Studio 37. One side of the property is an art studio and the other is a cafe. The only thing separating the two sides was a giant black curtain that stretched the length of the space. Kacy and Claire ordered the favorite caffeinated drink of Australia, a Flat White, and I got a chai tea. We got to work and ended up spending almost five hours at the cafe. The owner noticed that I hadn’t had very much of my tea (it was WAY too strong for me) so he remade it with more almond milk, free of charge. He also gave Kacy an extension cord to plug her laptop into while she went off to an appointment for an hour or so. Overall, the place warm and welcoming and we got our posters finished and submitted.
To reward ourselves for a job well done, we decided to walk around the shops in Fremantle for a while, until the Mexican restaurant we’d been dying to try opened up for dinner. No mom, I didn’t buy anything… We arrived at this authentically decorated Mexican restaurant and were able to order right away. Food in Australia is much more expensive than in the states (I’m talking $7 for a big mac, people), but I was still taken aback when I saw how much a burrito was going to cost me. I spent $26 dollars for a burrito and some rice and beans, and $13 for the mango margarita I was craving. Luckily, there was enough food for me to have leftovers the next day. Drinks here typically cost $10 for a standard sized beer, or $16 for a mixed drink with a single shot of hard alcohol, so the margaritas were a steal.
We got back to Murdoch and spent the rest of the night reading three scientific papers and preparing for the 20 minute discussion we would have to lead about them the next day. After staying up late finishing the readings, getting up and going to class on Friday was a bit of a struggle. We got to class and presented our posters, then led our discussions. Kacy talked about the paper that she had to read regarding the effects of tourists on whale shark behavior near the Ningaloo Reef (where we will be spending almost two weeks at the end of this program for our Marine Biology module), Claire discussed electro magnetic shark deterrents on Great Whites (don’t buy one, its a waste of money), and I got to share what I read about the accuracy of citizen science (I highly recommend getting involved by clicking here!).
That was how we wrapped up our first week of class. It was busy, but a welcome distraction to how badly I’m missing the familiarity of home. Having too much free time gets me thinking of the things I’m missing out on, like my family reunion that took place this weekend. Staying busy will help the time go by faster, while filling it with worthwhile knowledge and experience that I will be able to use in my career as a scientist. This morning we began our sustainability module at Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute (CUSP). It should be an interesting three weeks- I’m already loving the class. If you don’t know much about what you can do in your every day life to implement sustainable practices, here is a good place to start! This website give lots of good tips on ways to get involved (and save money).
Stay tuned for more! 🙂