The Scientific COMmunicator: Welcome to Calabash Caye Field Station, Belize

Hey! This is a blog series about my positive experiences as a marine science minor. Boston University Marine Program requires undergraduate and graduate students to fulfill a research-based semester where students have the opportunity to complete coursework in Belize. This is how I enjoyed the program’s curriculum and related it to my Communications major. 

My time at Boston University began with an unavoidable confrontation, or rather, a series of questions common with all students: which academic path do I take? 

While each decision-making process is unique,  my choice was split between two passions —  whether to study marine science at a top research institution or communications at one of the best colleges in the nation. It was a safe bet either way. But, technically, I never decided between one or the other. I chose both! 

In fact, adopting both areas of study helped me in tremendous ways down the line, especially with reinforcing my interest as a scientific communicator. I found one area of study, namely communication, enhanced my performance for the other, in this case marine science — and vice versa. 

Truthfully, I was nervous about the dangerous line our culture draws between art and science. I felt there were certain personas and accepted ways of thinking that disadvantaged students. I feared being labelled and rejected because I had a different academic history. After years of learning how to write effectively and think creatively, it seemed scary to enter the world of research. Yet, it was those very skills that allowed me to stand out, assume leadership roles in the field, and better communicate my findings. Turns out, creativity thinking, even at the college level, enhances insights and cooperation. 

Now, as a second semester senior, my BU Marine Program (BUMP) experiences in the field and in the classroom came and went much too quickly. To reflect on my fall 2019 marine semester is to remember lasting friendships, an engaging research-oriented curriculum, and an overall fulfilling experience. More than that, these passions have brought me here to tell you a little about my twelve days in Belize.

On December 3rd, less than 40 BU students and faculty began the end of their fall semester as we gathered at Boston Logan. Our journey began at 3 a.m. sharp with two flights, including a connection in Miami. Resting up on the flights was easy, until the anticipation and excitement for our arrival started to wake us up.

Alas! We made it.

First stop: Brodies Supermarket. All the second-timers stocked up on Belizean Guava jam and Marie Sharp’s hot sauce to eat and to take home as souvenirs. For me, they became well-received Christmas gifts. And boy are they good. 

While here, I felt some short-lived discomfort as our group stood out as  “loud Americans,” forgetting that we were visitors and perhaps being a little too demanding to get our sandwiches quickly. But, later on the island, discussion about our cultural differences brought the students and locals together. 

Photo by BUMP classmate Michaela Rogers. See more student photos at https://bumarine.smugmug.com.

Finally after 8+ hours of travel, we embarked on the last leg: an hour long cruise to Calabash Caye Field Station in Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve. Many of us were able to sit in the open-air stern of the boat, relax, and enjoy gliding through the ocean as the waves drowned out all noise. Elated with happiness, I saw my classmates for the first time. I mean, I finally saw a more genuine side of peers through an intimate microscope. Before my eyes with childlike-giddiness, were the like-minded folks, passionate about the ocean, and budding scientists I had come to know over the first academic months of the school year.

The Great Luggage Assembly Line, featuring Kevin and Junior in the teal boat.

Exhausted yet splendidly excited, we docked at what seemed to be our personal island — five acres of land shared only with the Coast Guard and Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association. Immediately unloading our bags filled with fragile instruments, technology, bug spray and clothes, we formed an assembly line vaguely reminiscent of a Model T production line. We rushed to get everything off the boat as the sun began to set while remembering all the hard work that gifted us this moment. That’s when the first craze to avoid sand flies began, and it was only until later that we discovered the true impact of those microscopic bugs.  Ironically around the same time, I began really reflecting about my purpose as a communicator for the sciences.

Our kitchen and presentation space. This is a Q&A we had with TASA, who explained their struggles enforcing the appropriate amount of fished conch. Picture by John Finnerty. 

As a scientist, I learned to utilize data to explain our findings and draw practical conclusions. As an experienced writer, I knew how to use well-structured language to best appeal to my audience. Most importantly, as a communicator, presenting these findings was easy. This is why I’ll always advocate for marrying STEM with a liberal arts foundation.

While I do admire the sciences for their competitive nature, with researchers pushing for innovation with limited funding, I think it must introduce more cross-disciplinary thinking. They could learn a thing or two about communication skills, whether it’s the ability to communicate findings or enhance collaboration. 

For me, it was learning to think scientifically while being able to write like a journalist.

Follow my entries to learn more about the program and my personal experiences on the semester. In my next post, I get more technical about our research methods and data analysis.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Rebecca Campbell, Study Abroad Correspondent 

Becca is a senior in the College of Communications studying Advertising with a Marine Science minor. Currently, she works for Matter Communications as a Digital Copywriter. Scuba diving, snorkeling, and relaxing on the beach are her favorite hobbies when not discussing climate-based issues, the US Women’s soccer team, or the latest book read.

Comments are closed.