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Research in the Rain Forest
Deep in the jungles of Nicaragua, 11 Washington College students experienced a winter break like no other. Jennie Carr and Robin Van Meter, assistant professors of biology, accompanied them to the Makengue Reserve in the Rio San Juan region for a WC first: a short-term study abroad course called “Tropical Ecology of Nicaragua.” During the trip, they spotted the Emerald Basilisk, a lizard that can run on top of water to escape predators.
The accommodations were rustic, offering no hot water and no Wi-Fi, but plenty of contact with the locals and spectacular views of the night sky. Students spent their days focused on independent research projects investigating a variety of organisms, including caiman, bats, lichen, birds, and spiders, or conducting projects involving turtle trapping, constructing a field guide, and trapping fish.
As students collected data for their projects, a bigger point about scientific research became clear. “The scientific process has to be modified, depending on your surroundings,” Van Meter remarked. “Now the students have a much better understanding of how science works and the unpredictable nature of doing research in ecology, because they weren’t in a lab. They gained a huge appreciation for the realistic—often frustrating but truly rewarding—aspects of science.”