Research at Williams-Mystic

I am at the point in my Williams-Mystic semester in which my research projects for three of my classes are in full swing.

For my marine ecology class, I have designed my own experimental study. I intend to determine how human development affects bird behavior. Our Williams-Mystic campus is situated directly on a marine estuary; a diverse ecosystem home to a wide variety of species. During the next few weeks, I will visit locations all over the estuary and observe bird behaviors there. The ability to design our own experimental studies is something on which the WM program prides itself. This has been an incredible opportunity to see what really goes into experimental design. I’ve been out in the field on cold and windy days where there haven’t even been any birds to show for it. I have seen the elements that go into a sufficient scientific proposal, and I look forward to being able to use this knowledge moving forward. I know that by the end of the semester my confidence in the lab and in the field will be greatly improved.

For maritime history, we are conducting our own primary research. The Mystic Seaport hosts incredible archives that are at our disposal. We are able to have access to ship logs from the 18th century, journal entries, and a wide variety of other sources, all of which we’re able to touch and explore with our own hands. For this project, I intend to look into female lighthouse keepers of the 1700s and 1800s and examine the challenges they faced in their profession due to their gender. Again, getting more practice designing a project proposal has been incredibly valuable. Learning to use more primary sources has also been an incredible experience.

Finally, for my marine policy class, we are in a unique situation. I am working in a group with 3 of my classmates. Each group of students has been assigned to a real stakeholder, for whom we will conduct research and draft a policy brief regarding the specific issue they want us to look at. My group is working with Save the Bay in Narragensett, Rhode Island. Our policy brief on fisheries management will be used by Save the Bay to present to state and federal governments in order to enact real change. The opportunity to do real work with real organizations has been one of the highlights of my experience at WM thus far. We have conducted interviews with real people who are being impacted by the issues that are facing the bay as we speak. We have contacted Senators, Congress people, and the RI state governor in order to get a better view of the scope of the issues at hand. It has been so valuable to see all the factors that go into policy making. The fact that this project will have a direct impact on the lives of so many who depend on the health of the bay and of its fisheries makes it so much more enjoyable and important.

All of this research going on at the same time has been a little overwhelming, but being so passionate about each and every aspect of all of them has made the work manageable and even fun. My classmates and I all agree that this is the first time in a while where we’ve felt so passionate about learning. Coming into this semester, I never could have anticipated what I would gain from the experience, and I’m excited to use what I have learned once I leave.