Thursday, June 12, 2014

Discovering New Interests: Looking back at my year with USFWS

(Foreword:  Sarah Martin is a student at Portland State University studying communication.  She will soon finish her one year communication and outreach internship with Region 1 Fisheries.)
I live with nature documentary fanatics.  In the evenings while I study or after I go to bed, Evan (my husband) and Huxley (our cat) lounge on the couch transfixed by the wonders of nature conveniently harnessed and transmitted indoors.  Blue Planet, Planet Earth, Life, Life of Birds, and Life of Mammals are among their favorites, but I’ve never taken the time to develop an interest. 

I’ve never developed an interest, that is, until this past year when I’ve had the opportunity to benefit from first-hand experience and one-on-one Q and A sessions with fish and aquatic resource experts.  I tease my friend Donna, a Fish Biologist at the Columbia River Fisheries Resource Office, that she has become my very own nature documentary.  I always look forward to our chats when she shares her knowledge about interesting aquatic species like fresh water mussels, Pacific Lamprey, and white sturgeon.

You might ask why my interests have developed over the past year.  The answer: Opportunity!

 I am a student at Portland State University pursuing a master’s degree in communication.  Although I don’t have a background in aquaculture or fish biology, I have been lucky enough to have a one year graduate assistantship with Fishery Resources to help with communication and outreach initiatives.  As part of the communication work I do, I read technical information and talk to experts about scientific findings, aquatic species, and conservation then write short stories or summaries for people like me (i.e., non-experts).  So, while it may be surprising, my naiveté on the subject is actually an asset because I ask a lot of questions that other non-experts might wonder about. 

As it turns out, my budding interest is infectious.  Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to call it “communicable.”  The factoids that Donna and other experts have shared with me, along with my hands-on experiences helping with spawning at hatcheries and stream sampling, have a way of sneaking into my daily conversations.  A few examples…

·        After helping with spawning at Carson National Fish Hatchery last August, I tried to impress Evan with my newfound knowledge. Unfortunately, it turns out that he and Huxley had already seen a few spawning documentaries so I wasn’t able to teach him anything new.  I did, however, gloat about the fact that I got to experience spawning for real instead of just in documentary format!

·        After stream sampling with a crew at Abernathy Fish Technology Center last September, I found myself raving to anyone who would listen about the wonders of waders (they are pretty incredible after all), not to mention the interesting studies and genetic research that the folks at the Technology Center do. 


·        At dinner with my parents last week, I described the incredible reproductive odds that fresh water mussels face (check out Donna’s post about it).  I also told them about the neat lures that some species have evolved (check out Donna’s recent post about them… Whoa!). 

These are just a few of the instances when the important and interesting work that the Service does have snuck into my daily conversations.  Prior to my first day last July, I didn’t know I would be so interested.  Now that my one-year appointment with the Service is nearly complete, I will miss the opportunities for hands-on experience and one-on-one Q and A sessions with experts.  Evan and Huxley might be able to persuade me to take in a documentary or two to fill the void.  And, maybe I can persuade Evan to do a little citizen science with me (tales of our adventures will have to suffice for Huxley because he’ll have to stay home)!

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