A Summer in the Rainforest

Linda Wu, COL & WH ’24, Annandale, VA

International field ecology research isn’t always well funded, especially when there aren’t professors at Penn working with the systems you want to study. The opportunities that do exist are often extremely competitive. After application after application with no luck, I found out about funding available like this one.

At the time, I was spending a semester abroad in Monteverde, Costa Rica studying tropical ecology and conservation. Our class had just finished visiting La Selva Biological Station—a place where researchers anywhere from Long Island to France come together to study tropical systems. There I met Lindsay, then a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University studying belowground dynamics in tropical treefall gaps. I decided to email her about helping out on her next project, and she said yes! We called, planned out a project looking at seed fungal interactions in tropical pioneer tree species, and submitted it for funding. Now, I’m working on this research project at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama with the Zalamea lab.

My first day in Panama was delayed by a storm that closed runways at PTY, so after a few hours waiting out the rain in an airport in Colombia, I finally got settled in. The first few weeks involved getting to know the rest of the team, some fieldwork, getting the project off the ground, and learning about the system that I’m working with. Now, I’ve been organizing my experimental design, collecting data, and thinking about my results. During the evenings and weekends, I’ve been able to explore other parts of the country like the nearby islands and cloud forest.

The goal of the Career Services Summer Funding is to allow students to pursue amazing, but underfunded, opportunities. Furthermore, as a low-income student, pay is something I look at. This fund not only gave me an immersive research experience from taking on this project, but also surrounded me with a collaborative community of people studying anything from acoustic niche partitioning in frogs to ant locomotor performance. During journal clubs, I heard in depth discussions of current gaps in literature, criticism of various papers, and ideas for future projects. I listened to seasoned researchers from around the globe during Tuesday Tupper Talks and those just starting their careers in ecology at Thursday Bambi Talks on Barro Colorado Island. Here, I have truly felt like an ecologist and created relationships that will last beyond the summer, and the funding helped me do it.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services