My name is Hayley DeHart and I just finished my first year as a graduate student in the marine biology program here at CofC. My thesis project will involve population genetics in sharks, so my advisor sent me to Costa Rica to attend a class in conservation genetics offered by the Organization of Tropical Studies. Thanks to the CofC graduate study abroad award, I was able to pay for my flight to San Jose and attend this wonderful and useful course.
We traveled to Las Cruces Biological Station near the town of San Vito, about 10 km from the Panamanian border. Las Cruces was part of the Costa Rican rainforest in a very isolated area and was originally started by Edward Wilson, who created a botanical garden with thousands of native and exotic plants that remain to this day. The botanical garden and station now cater to eco-tourism while also allowing several thousand tropical biologists to stay and conduct research every year.
After arriving at the station, we were able to settle in meet with the other students. Most students were Ph.D. candidates from schools across America, but there were also several students from South America. This course provided a great way to meet and network with other students that had many different research interests, but all were interested in wildlife conservation and population genetics.
Every day in the first week of the course we would have lectures in the morning followed by paper discussions (and rain!) in the afternoon. The lectures were intellectually stimulating and the discussions were very open and facilitated by idea flow. It was so nice to be able to learn so much about a biologic topic I had little experience with. During our free time, we usually hiked the many trails that surrounded Las Cruces. There was always something to see, from coatis to waterfalls, hiking felt like a true jungle experience!
At the end of the first week we traveled to Las Alturas, which was higher in the mountains. This field station was much more “rustic,” and consisted of a few bunks, simple bathrooms, and a small classroom. We used electricity only for a few hours at night and lived very simply for the few days we were there. The views were incredible and we learned much about the native tree and plant species in the rainforest during our hikes in the area.
The second week consisted of computer workshops designed to instruct us how to use software that was pertinent to population genetic techniques. These workshops were very useful for my future research. At the end of the course, it was difficult to say goodbye to all my new found friends, as well as Costa Rica, but the experience was one I could never trade. I am extremely grateful to the graduate school and Graduate School Advisory Board member Dianer Culhane for helping fund my trip, and I would also like to thank my advisor, Dr. Gavin Naylor, for helping fund this incredible study abroad experience.
! Pura Vida!