Hello from the USA. I have been home for a while now, and I am missing Australia. Therefore, to mitigate the feeling of reverse culture shock, I want to continue blogging about my study abroad experiences.
For the last month of the program, all of our academic time was designated towards directed research. After we came back from our mid-semester break, we dove directly into our research projects. Each student was assigned to one of the three professors at the centre. I was assigned to our rainforest ecology professor, Siggy.
Siggy had eleven people under her for research. Two students, Brone and Felicia, did research with leeches, three students, Devin, Kristin, and Crystal, looked at tree-kangaroo behavior, one student, Nickie, looked at how to differentiate between tree kangaroo poop and pademelon poop (Yes! She had to dissect poop!), another student, Monisha, dissected cane toads to determine food diversity in relation to the presence of lung worms, two other students, Alan and Hannah, looked at stress pee in cane toads, and another student, Graham, and I looked at microhabitat preferences of skinks.
If you don’t know what a skink is, it is a really small lizard. In order to test our scientific hypotheses, Graham and I had to set up traps to catch skinks. We used pitfall traps with drift fences, which are basically fences that guide skinks into a hole in the ground that have buckets placed in it to catch the skinks that fall inside the trap.
We had some students help us set up all of our traps, but I most specifically remember Helen because she unfortunately had a leech attach to her eye while we were setting up traps. Instead of hyperventilating, Helen just shrugged her shoulders and kept on working.
Graham and I caught a total of 26 skinks during our 10 days of trapping. We caught 4 different species (Carlia rubrigularis, Saproscincus basilicus, Saproscincus tetradactylus, and Glaphyromorphus fuscicaudis). The only Glaphyromorphus fuscicaudis we caught had a snout to vent length of 8.4 cm! It was the biggest skink we found during our trapping period and was quite a giant.
For our assignment, we had to write a research paper, give a presentation to the professors, and make a poster to present to the surrounding community. My specific project looked at the effect of forest edges in restoration sites on skink populations. I found out that edges of restoration sites actually benefit skinks.
This portion of my study abroad experience was very beneficial to me because it allowed me to see if research was something that I wanted to do in my future. It was a unique experience that is not usually a typical part of studying abroad, and our end product or our paper was very rewarding.
It feels so odd being back in the states, and sometimes I still wake up and initial feel like I am still in Australia. The experience is something I will always treasure, and the benefits of my experience will aid me in my future.