Independent directed research…enough said. Nothing has been more enjoyable than staring at my computer screen for 8 to 12 hours every day for the past two weeks. Ok well that’s not entirely true. I have had the opportunity to pull myself away from the non-stop flurry of deadlines, literature research, and writing, but the majority of my time is spent in various places around the center attempting to get work done.
However, my work area and productivity is dependent on multiple factors, whether I need internet access or not, whether people are around, and whether the area is quiet. Unfortunately, these locations are tough to come by in the rainforest. It is nearly impossible to find a completely silent place to work. Between the study shack, classroom, and back tables, every day and every hour my work location can change. Zumba on the back veranda, movies on the classroom projector, etc all dictate where, when and if work can actually be completed. Not to mention the fact that 31 students are trying to use 4 computers that have consistent internet access to obtain references. If I can’t get a computer, I try my luck with the study shack, but when it rains the internet cuts out. Living in the rainforest during the wet season, this has posed a major problem…
Ok. Ok. My rant is over. Anyway, weeks 9 and 10 kicked off the directed research projects. For the DRs, the 31 of us were given presentations on the topics in three areas of study (based on the classes we took): ecology, resource management, and socioeconomics/environmental policy. We then ranked the 6 topics (2 topics per professor) by preference.
I was given my first choice: carbon sequestration. However, after collecting the DBH (diameter breast height) of trees in various plots from various tree plantings conducted in various years, I still did not know what my research question would be. Eventually, Colin Hunt, an ex SFS professor and the ex president of TREAT, provided me with the inspirational spark I needed. After our discussion and through much thought and deliberation with my research adviser, I determined that my study was going to investigate local community conservation organizations and the attributes that contribute to their success by using TREAT (Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands) as my primary case study. I couldn’t have been happier with the decision because I combined my two collegiate areas of interests, psychology (my major) and environmental studies (my concentration).
For a week and a half, I was shuttled to numerous towns in the Tablelands in order to conduct semi-structured interviews to generate my results. I interviewed four different groups of people (TREAT members, Landcare members, local residents, and TREAT experts) to remove insider bias and to gain a wider array of perspectives from individuals with different POVs. The end of a week of data collection meant that data analysis and writing would dominate the remainder of my time here in Australia. Through literature review and examination of interview responses, I discovered the criteria that foster the success of CBC organizations (community based conservation) are: volunteerism, organizational structure, and networking relationships. From there, I created an interlocking theoretical framework that I applied to TREAT to determine how the organization embodies the model.
That brings us to the present and final state of my project. On Wednesday, I presented my research findings and project to staff and fellow classmates and Saturday I turned in the final copy of my research paper. The paper is 35 pages long (including figures, tables, appendices, etc). After all of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the report, it was finally over. When that hard copy came out of the printer and it was put in a binder, I was overcome with a sense of achievement. I couldn’t believe that the program was less than a week from ending and that I had successfully completed my first collegiate research project. With time running out and the days flying by, all I can think about is spending time with my SFS family.