I was lucky enough to spend my summer on the island of Bermuda, a geological anomaly sitting isolated in the middle of the Atlantic, small enough that you could walk from one end to another in a day. The majority of my interest in Bermuda was not in the island itself but in the extensive reef system surrounding the island. I enrolled in the course EEB 312: Marine Biology taught by Professor James F. Gould. Over the course of a month, I would learn many things and meet many new friends, but most importantly, I learned the value of an education for its own sake.
On our first day on the island, we went on a checkout dive. Some of the sixteen of us snorkeled, including myself, but the scuba divers needed an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the dive master, so we went for a non-lab dive where we just go to explore. Over the next hour, we saw a variety of beautiful marine fauna. Upon getting out of the water and back on the boat, our professors were met with a series of questions about what’s this or that, what was this or that doing, and so on. All excited and enthusiastic, we headed back to the research station we called home to get in the classroom and start our intensive series of lectures.
Over the next few weeks, our lectures and labs would cover everything you could ever want to know about marine biology, from every possible detail about corals and coral reef systems to a minimum ability to identify 50 different fish species we might see on our labs. We learned about the smallest creatures in the ocean, the plankton, to the largest, the whales. We had the opportunity to demonstrate this knowledge on the frequent dives we had, most being focused dives collecting data for later analysis in the lab.
While studying and learning such a vast quantity of information in just a month was intensive and often stressful, our education made these dives exponentially more enjoyable for everyone involved. Instead of questions about what things were and what they were doing, our exclamations turned into excited conversations about the identification of a rare fish species we had identified in class or a species interaction we had just been reading about the night before or the ecological principles we had been tested on operating in the real world. In terms out our check out dive had been almost devoid of any biodiversity that had made the rest of our dives so engaging, but without having first being educated, we couldn’t appreciate the true value of the underwater beauty of Bermuda.
The unity of book learning and real experience that should characterize the sciences can get caught up in the academic environment of study at a university. We can become lost as to why we are actually studying science and what allured us into our field in the first place. The aspect of wonder and enjoyment in studying the universe around us should truly characterize scientific study. My journey to Bermuda returned my deep fascination into the intricate workings of the natural world, the desire for understanding that made me a biologist in the first place. To be able to watch what you learn apply itself in front of your eyes in a place as beautiful as Bermuda has been a top moment in my academic career, but I hope my future will find me in the field time and time again.
~Alexander Gow '16
© 2014 Princeton Traveler